The project will identify and publicise examples of communities using the new Neighbourhood Planning rights to deliver positive changes for towns and villages in rural areas.
The announcement was made in the Rural Statement (20-page / 1.6MB PDF) published by Defra, setting out Government support for rural areas.
The statement pointed to a case study on Much Wenlock in Shropshire, naming the council one of the 'first wave neighbourhood planning front runners'. The council is working on a wide-ranging development plan for the rural market town which will cover housing, employment, protection of the local environment and improvement of community services. The council has been working with the local community in the development of the plan, including undertaking a residents' survey of over 1,300 homes.
The statement also said that almost 10% of bids outside London for the Government's Affordable Homes Programme were for homes in smaller rural communities. Under the Affordable Homes Programme, £1.8 billion has been allocated to deliver 80,000 new homes for affordable rent and affordable home ownership.
Government initiatives to create rural jobs, business opportunities and rural economic growth will include superfast broadband delivery, rural business grants and Rural Growth Networks, the statement said.
“Rural economic growth is vital for this country. The Government’s role is to ensure that rural areas have all the infrastructure they need to grow. Businesses should then be free from the unnecessary Government red tape that has got in the way of rural economic growth in the past," said Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.
The Country Land & Business Association (CLBA) welcomed the statement.
“We welcome this focus on rural economic growth. Long-term sustainability and the competitiveness of rural businesses are crucial in the present economic climate. It is vital Defra understands the needs and interests of rural businesses as well as those who live and work in rural areas, said CLBA president Harry Cotterell.
The Rural Growth Networks were announced by Defra in March. Under the scheme, five regions across England will enable businesses in rural areas to reach their potential by breaking down barriers to economic growth, such as a shortage of work premises, slow internet connection and fragmented business networks. It is expected the scheme will create over 3,000 jobs and 700 start-up businesses.