LAST week the Government launched its ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’ strategy which sets out initiatives being taken forward to unlock the potential of our rural areas. The strategy focuses on four broad priorities that are key to rural communities being able to thrive.
Firstly, we will grow our rural economy. The Environment Secretary will consult on changes to permitted development rights to support rural diversification. This will look at changes to make the planning process more straightforward for farmers so they can more easily improve their redundant agricultural buildings and improve business opportunities. For my part, I regularly engage with our local farmers on their concerns, most recently meeting with our local NFU branch last month.
We will improve rural connectivity. The Government will continue to deliver Gigabit broadband and mobile coverage in rural areas. New measures announced last week include providing £7 million to test new ways of bringing together satellite, wireless and fixed line internet connectivity in remote areas. On this, the rollout of ultrafast broadband in the Forest of Dean is coming along well with thousands of local homes now having access to speeds of up to 900Mbps.
We will focus on homes and energy. New measures announced last week for England include funding of £2.5 million for a network of rural housing enablers to boost the supply of new, affordable housing by identifying development opportunities, supporting site owners and community representatives to navigate the planning system, and engaging with local communities to help shape developments.
Finally, we will champion rural communities. New measures include the imminent publication of a Dental Plan for England that will help improve provision in rural areas. We will also put in place legislation this summer to increase fly-tipping and litter penalties and intend to ringfence those penalties to tackle this blight on the countryside. We are also supporting the National Police Chiefs’ Council to establish a new National Rural Crime Unit and are funding a post within this unit specifically dedicated to tackling fly-tipping.
Unleashing rural opportunity is an ongoing effort across Government and something that I will continue to make the case for in the Forest of Dean.