With a pot of cash of over £5 million to be bid for, businesses and community groups have the opportunity to use the money to support jobs and growth in the rural economy.
The money, available this summer, comes from the LEADER programme, which delivers funding from the EU and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
Local Action Groups (LAGs) will be providing grant funding under the LEADER programme to help businesses and communities in rural areas grow.
Three LEADER areas will operate in Kent – the existing West Kent LEADER (rural areas of Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks, and part of rural Gravesham) and the Kent Downs and Marshes LEADER (rural areas of Ashford, Maidstone, Medway, Swale, and the Romney Marshes).
These areas have already helped 116 projects deliver over 80 jobs, supported over 500 businesses and levered in over £5 million private sector match funding between 2007 and 2013.
They will now be joined by a new East Kent LEADER which will cover the rural areas of Thanet, Canterbury, Dover, Swale (east of and including Faversham) and Shepway (north of the Romney Marshes).
LEADER funding, which forms part of Defra’s Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) will continue through to 2020.
Deputy Cabinet Member for Economic Development at KCC Cllr Sean Holden said: “This is really good news for rural Kent.
“Now that LEADER covers nearly the whole county our farming, forestry and other rural businesses, and our rural communities, will be able to get funds for new, small scale projects that will contribute significantly to local job creation, rural economic growth and environmental protection”.
Funding under LEADER is available to rural businesses, farmers, foresters, growers, landowners, environmental organisations, cultural, heritage and community providers.
It can also be utilised by voluntary and charitable organisations to develop projects that will assist, strengthen and develop the local economy and deliver jobs, growth and community benefits in rural Kent.
Chairman of West Kent LEADER LAG Chris Cooper said: “The rural economy of West Kent presents a unique set of challenges recognised in our Local Development Strategy.
“Rural employment needs to be supported and at the same time positive management of rural landscapes in West Kent needs to be promoted. LEADER is key to sustainable business growth and we welcome the new programme”.
LAGs are made up of local partners and stakeholders who have a vested interest in the wellbeing of rural areas and include local businesses, National Farmers Union, Country Land and Business Association, Kent Wildlife Trust, Kent Downs AONB, local community groups and public authorities like Kent County Council and the Borough/District/Unitary bodies.
Chairman of Kent Downs and Marshes LEADER LAG Keith Harrison said: “These awards are great news. There is no other rurally focussed investment stream like LEADER – where local partners set a strategy and then invest in projects designed to bring about related economic, social or environmental benefit.”
Chairman of East Kent LEADER, farmer and NFU/CLA representative Charles Tassell said: “It is really encouraging news to hear that the East Kent plan has been accepted. LEADER approval means extra funding to the rural sector enabling projects that will make a difference to many groups within East Kent.”
Sevenoaks District Council, on behalf of The West Kent Partnership will be the accountable body for West Kent LEADER while Kent County Council will act as the accountable body for both Kent Downs and Marshes, and East Kent LEADER areas.
Leader of Sevenoaks District Council and Chairman of the West Kent Partnership Cllr Peter Fleming added: “The West Kent LEADER Programme has been instrumental in bringing much needed grant support to our diverse rural economy.
“The West Kent Partnership is delighted that further funding is now forthcoming and offers its full support to the West Kent Local Action Group to deliver and innovative and wide ranging programme to create employment opportunities and wealth to sustain jobs in the West Kent area.”