NER have been delivering a programme which has delivered significant benefits to rural areas and the farming community in the North East including Ballymoney, Moyle and Coleraine.
The North East Region Rural Development Programme (NER) are concerned that there is to be no transfer from Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Programme(CAP) to Pillar 2. This has obvious consequences for the nature and size and impact of any new Rural Development Programme.
The amount being transferred was already the lowest of any of the UK regions, being less than half the Welsh re-allocation. NI as part of the UK had already the lowest per head allocation to Rural Development of any member state. This will put NI rural areas at a disadvantage compared to other areas of the UK and indeed the EU.
If there is only the Rural Development EU Pillar 2 element this will lead to the very unfair position whereby over 95% of CAP funding will go to the farm and landowning sectors which represent less than 8% of the rural community. It is also worth noting that farm numbers are declining by over 500 per year.
NER recognise the importance of the farm sector, in that it is the primary rural activity and land use. However there are many other aspects to the rural community and economy which also need support and funding to maintain balanced and vibrant rural areas.
NER recognises that farmers are vital to maintain rural areas, but it is a reciprocal arrangement-without healthy villages, active communities and thriving retail, service and manufacturing and other sectors the countryside will decline.
The lack of rural development funding will also potentially disadvantage the smaller more marginal farmers especially in less favoured areas, as well as a range of agri food farm safety and training programmes. The EU also prioritises the LEADER aspects of Rural funding in that it wiil allow a higher rate if funds are delivered through a LEADER approach.
Indeed there will be fewer funds (over £105m) for a whole range of rural activities such as
• Agri food strategy
• Less favoured areas
• Environmental projects
• Support for Rural tourism
• Support for small rural businesses
• Village Renewal
• Community activities
It is vital that there is a robust Rural Development Programme as this helps provide jobs, protect the landscape and environment and ensure vibrant villages and rural communities. NER would point to the following outputs in their area alone (Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Larne and Moyle Council Areas) which will be achieved by this partnership.
• NER budget being at full committment by the end of October (Over 13 million pounds in funds committed)
• This has resulted in a total investment of approximately 26 milion pounds into the rural economy in the North East Region
• All financial spend targets on course – over 70% budget spent, remainder to be spent by the end of this year
• Supported 170 businesses including Farm diversification.
• Supported 65 tourism/heritage initiatives
• Supported 24 community facilities/services
• 32 Village Renewal projects
• Creation of up to 180 jobs
This achievement is also replicated in the other rural areas of NI.
It would be disappointing if a problem over technical allocations was allowed to undermine the importance of rural funds for the small farmer and for the wider rural community. NER would like to see DARD provide a reassurance that the Rural Development Programme will remain a robust, significant and well-funded aspect of CAP and all aspects of DARD activity and that all the tremendous work carried out by the existing Rural Development Programme will not be undermined.
Billy Henry NER LAG vice Chair stated: “We recognise the commitment which has been made to Rural Development funding and appreciate that this situation has left DARD with a problem that was not foreseen. This shortfall is something which is one where the EU would be disappointed in the outcome for rural areas of Northern Ireland and which is to the disadvantage of the vast majority of rural people. There is an urgent need to address the issues emerging from this situation otherwise the uncertainty which it causes will be to the detriment of all who live and work in rural areas”.