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Gildernew confirms RDP Council Clusters

21 March, 2008


Sinn Féin Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has announced her intention to proceed with delivery of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2007-2013 using the current seven council clusters.

The Minister of the Environment, Arlene Foster MLA, announced on 13 March that the 26 local councils will be reduced to 11 as part of the Review of Public Administration. The seven council clusters formed for the administration of the new Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 will provide valuable experience for those new councils, which will delivering rural development programmes post 2011.

Outlining her decision, the minister said:

"I have been very encouraged by the progress and co-operation shown by the seven clusters, and it is to the local councils' credit that they have made such good progress in the delivery of the RDP. It is essential that the existing arrangements proceed to get the programme up and running. Our rural communities need to access this funding as soon as possible.

"I understand that a number of clusters have already engaged with their local communities and are close to forming Local Action Groups. Working with consultants and the council clusters, these Local Action Groups will start drawing up the strategies for their areas. It is anticipated that the first strategy will be submitted to the department for consideration by the start of May, and we would hope that most clusters will be in a position to award grants to applicants by the autumn of this year.

"Due to the short life of European funding programmes and the tight time constraints imposed on their delivery, it is not possible to set all this good work aside and start from the beginning again. To do so would lose much-needed European funding to rural dwellers and the rural economy. It is worth remembering that the new councils will not come into being until 2011 when I would hope that a large percentage of the Rural Development Programme will already have been delivered." ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. The Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 was approved by the EU's Rural Development Committee on 24 July 2007.

2. Approximately £100million of the funding through Axis 3 and some of Axis 1 will be delivered at community level, with new local action groups developing tailored strategies and programmes for their area.

3. Axis 3 of the programme contains the following measures:

3.1: Diversification into non-agricultural activities
3.2: Business creation and development
3.3: Encouragement of tourism activities
3.4: Basic services for the economy and rural population
3.5: Village renewal and development
3.6: Conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage

4. The initial decision regarding the delivery of Axis 3 of the RDP was taken following intensive consultation with all interested parties, including councils and a raft of rural organisations who were instrumental in making the previous programme a success.

5. The minister had asked local councils to come together in self-forming clusters to deliver the new programme on a sub-regional basis, and seven clusters were formed. Each cluster will work with a new Local Action Group to prepare and implement a local rural development strategy aimed at addressing need in the area.

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