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25.06.18

LEPs ‘neglecting’ rural areas by focusing on already wealthy economies

Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are having a negative impact on rural areas and on the countryside in general, a survey from campaign leaders has found.

A staggering two-thirds of those surveyed – hailing from 34 of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) branches, which cover 32 of the 38 LEPs nationally – indicated that these business-led partnerships actually neglect rural areas rather than help increase investment in them.

Although LEPs were designed to promote growth in their local areas, today’s research found that they may actually be “entrenching inequalities” within and between England’s regions rather than getting rid of them. For example, investment is three times more likely in an already-wealthy area than in one in social need.

They also have a key responsibility in administering the Rural Development Programme for England, but only 21% of LEPs in the survey were perceived by respondents as actually supportive to the development of affordable rural housing, while just 14% were found to address or improve rural transport.

These results suggest that rural economies, which provide 13% of England’s employment, are in fact having their economic potential ignored by the very groups designed to boost it.

Paul Milner, head of strategic plans and devolution at the CPRE, said LEPs are supposed to be “more sensitive to the needs of rural communities, businesses and economies” than the regional development agencies they replaced. But local campaign groups are arguing that too often, these partnerships are “remote, back developments that will happen anyway, and are not doing enough to support rural regeneration.”

“The imbalance of investment between rural and urban areas is a real threat to growth in these communities, and will lead to our precious countryside becoming increasingly neglected in the future,” explained Milner. “An increase in transparency and the production of a Rural Plan at the very least is urgently needed to help prevent rural communities from being left behind.”

Drafting a Rural Plan would help focus efforts on the importance of the countryside as an “economic and environmental resource that needs better management.” This is the biggest of the 12 policy recommendations the CRPE is making both for the government and LEPs in general based on the survey results.

These also include the need to have meaningful and inclusive representation of the non-statutory environmental sector in LEP programmes and at board levels, as well as to distribute funding to LEPs in a way that prioritises areas of need rather than focusing mostly on areas of opportunity.

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