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Multi-million pound schemes will link to maximise economic uplift

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

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Work on two multi-million economic uplift programmes in Devon and Somerset will be co-ordinated so that productivity in rural areas is substantially increased.

The chairman of the Heart of the South West LEP has pledged that a new £2.9 million investment from the Rural Growth Network will be closely linked to the £100 million Connecting Devon and Somerset superfast broadband scheme so that rural businesses get the maximum benefit.

"These programmes are absolutely joined at the hip," said Tim Jones. "You can't operate a rural business without good broadband."

Devon and Somerset will receive £1 million each of the RGN funding, with the remaining £900,000 being spent on "revenue projects" across the two counties.

The LEP said that the investment would create 700 jobs and would give an economic uplift of £40 million, with a focus of market towns and rural communities.

Devon projects include:

£150,000 for the Opportunity Okehampton site for business expansion and growth.

£400,000 to Holsworthy Agricultural Business Centre to open up surrounding land for development.

£300,000 will go to the EaRTH Centre at Bicton College to develop flexible workspace for new and expanding businesses.

£150,000 will go towards developing the Webber's Yard business park scheme at Dartington.

In Somerset, schemes include a new business centre in Highbridge, near Weston-super-Mare, as well as flexible work hubs in other parts of the county.

The funding is part of a pilot scheme that is part of a national drive to encourage economic growth in rural areas.

Mr Jones added: "This funding is a vital lifeline for our rural communities and economy. It represents a major commitment to achieve growth throughout Devon and Somerset and is designed to reach the most remote rural communities.

"It is vital that we enhance the enormous potential of our many rural enterprises and encourage the growth of new rural businesses.

"Improving our business productivity, supporting business growth, protecting existing employment and creating new jobs will all be assisted through this programme.

"We are determined to ensure that the interests of the rural economy are fully supported through our initiatives."

LEP board member and Devon County Councillor Will Mumford said: "Rural areas are vital to the economy of both Devon and Somerset and it's important that we invest funding effectively to ensure economic growth."

Mr Jones said that the LEP had a further five funding bids lodged at present.

Communications giant BT has been named as the preferred bidder for the £100 million Connecting Devon and Somerset broadband upgrade programme with an announcement expected shortly about how the upgrade programme will move forwards.

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