New Anglia Lep to compete nationally for scheme it helped design

Norfolk and Suffolk will have to compete with local enterprise partnerships and authorities across the country for a slice of �15m to pilot a scheme they have helped design to boost business in rural areas.

The New Anglia Lep - which has been working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and three other predominantly rural Leps - will now have to submit a full application to get a slice of the Rural Growth Networks pilot funding.

New Anglia has already submitted a proposal for the Rural Growth Network, but DEFRA yesterday announced it will run a national competition to find up to six pilot schemes.

The Rural Growth Networks will consist of a relatively small number of 'enterprise hubs' in underused business parks, brownfield site or sites which already have outline planning permission for commercial or industrial development.

New Anglia programme director Chris Starkie said they had been part of a team of four rural local enterprise partnerships which had been in discussions with DEFRA.

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'We have helped develop the concept of rural growth networks,' he said. 'We are going to look at the criteria and work with our partners. We have been working with about 12 local authorities. We will confer with our local authorities who are interested in the proposal and we will decide the locations nearer the time. We would anticipate that would be at the end of January,' he added.

The �15m Rural Growth Networks pilot will be designed to overcome barriers to growth, such as a lack of suitable premises, and poor provision of infrastructure including superfast broadband and mobile networks.

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If successful, the scheme could bring preferential access to a �100m fund distributed by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) to help small businesses improve their skills, facilities and competitiveness.

Rural affairs minister, Richard Benyon said: 'Rural businesses face particular challenges – a lack of business premises, slow internet connection and fragmented business networks are some of them. The Rural Growth Networks will help to tackle these problems so that more rural business can start up and grow, giving a boost to local communities and unlocking the economic potential of rural areas.'

He said: 'Rural Growth Networks will typically consist of a relatively small number of sites or 'enterprise hubs' on underused business parks, brownfield sites or sites which already have outline planning permission for commercial or industrial development. It is expected that each hub will be suitable for between ten and twenty micro or small enterprises. Enterprise hubs could be generic or focus on a particular sector, for instance local food, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, IT, creative/media industries or leisure businesses.'

The councils or local enterprise partnerships will supply business advice and provide workplaces and infrastructure to rural businesses.

The winners will be announced in March.

Mr Starkie said earlier this month: 'The rural economy is utterly critical to Norfolk and Suffolk,' he said. 'We have been working with colleagues at Defra over the last couple of months on creating a number of incentives to support business in rural areas, and one of those is the RGN concept which we hope to introduce.'

Ann Steward, Norfolk County Council's Cabinet Member for Economic Development said: ' This is good news for rural England - and Norfolk particularly; it is all too easy to overlook the importance of business development in the countryside.

'I am pleased we have the opportunity to bid and, through working with the Local Enterprise Partnership , I am confident that we have a really strong and credible proposal that, if successful, would help stimulate profitable growth among our rural businesses in the future.'

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