'Region will get less EU funding'

The eastern region will receive little or no European Union investment in future because of the accession of poorer former Soviet bloc countries to the union, council officers warned yesterday.

The eastern region will receive little or no European Union investment in future because of the accession of poorer former Soviet bloc countries to the union, council officers warned yesterday.

With congratulations on the success of the last six-year European funding period ringing in their ears, officers told a full meeting of Breckland Council not to expect the same again.

The last period of investment, which comes to an end this year, has seen £100m invested in the eastern region, with £37.7m pumped into grassroots facilities in Breckland, including community buildings and town centre regeneration.

The money also created 300 jobs, supporting 1,000 businesses and helping 5,000 people get trained.

But with cash due to be spread further afield, Mark Stanton, the council's economic development and regeneration officer, said investment would be targeted at large projects, with the hope that the benefits would "trickle down".

A system to allocate money was being devised by European officers in Brussels, he said, and was expected to be less focused on geographical areas, and more theme-based.

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The council was positioning itself to take advantage of what it expected to be the new criteria, said Mr Stanton, by setting up the Rural Enterprise Valley (REV).

The £6.3m project is set to invest in companies associated with the motorsport and advanced engineering industry in Breckland - building on the presence of Lotus and other experts based in the area.

The aim was to boost the sector to create more jobs, said Mr Stanton, and it was hoped that the project would qualify for funding under the new EU requirements.

Mr Stanton said: "The deprivation in Thetford is not as a result of unemployment but low wages.

"REV aims to create quality jobs."

And he said: "There are a lot of migrant workers here who are prepared to do lower-skilled jobs. Many of them have skills and we want to take advantage of those."

He was also hoping for millions of pounds in investment from central government into infrastructure around Thetford and the A11 corridor, if 6,000 planned homes in the area were confirmed.

The new homes would give the area "New Growth Point Status", which qualified it for additional investment from the government.

An announcement from the Department for Communities and Local Government is expected later in the month.

Breckland Council officers will put together an application for EU funding for the 2007-13 period over the next 18 months.