Defra announces £200 million boost for rural broadband and investment

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has unveiled a £200 million (€223 million) package for the improvement of rural broadband and on-farm investment.

Under the latest round of funding from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), specific funding will be available for rural broadband projects – as well as new farm buildings and machinery – for the first time.

Announcing the package during a visit to the Suffolk Cookhouse project in Ipswich, England, on Saturday, July 29, Rural Affairs Minister Lord Gardiner revealed that the first grant funding will be targeted at reservoirs and forestry equipment.

Support for broadband, rural business support, on-farm food processing and arable and horticultural productivity will be made available later in the year – with the funding only applicable to England.

The money forms part of planned investment of at least £3.5 billion (€3.9 million) into the rural economy by 2020 under the RDPE – which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

The statement from Defra highlighted that all projects agreed before the UK leaves the EU will be guaranteed for their lifetime.

A breakdown of how the money will be spent showed £30 million (€33.54 million) will go towards improving rural broadband, £45 million (€50.3 million) will help farms to grow and invest in new equipment, and £120 million (€134.1 million) will be used for projects that boost farm productivity.

According to Defra, the current RDPE is expected to create 6,750 jobs – with more than 1,400 projects already agreed generating an estimated 2,300 jobs.

“One in three businesses in this country are based in the countryside, and this government is committed to providing the support they need to create a strong and prosperous rural economy,” Lord Gardiner said.

This funding will make sure businesses in remote locations can get online, help farmers install cutting-edge technology, create new tourist hotspots and bring high quality jobs to rural communities across the country.

Publishing its annual report 2016-17 last week, Defra revealed that it had set up a £230 million (€257.1 million) fund to cover disallowance penalties relating to the mismanagement of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).