The Countryside Alliance has found much in the Government’s Autumn Statement to welcome and many of the policies announced have the potential to create real benefits for rural communities.

In particular, the Countryside Alliance welcome the Government’s commitment to invest £1 billion in superfast broadband by 2020, rural rate relief, and the creation of a Housing Infrastructure Fund to ensure that there is a balance between new housing and investment in new and existing infrastructure to support communities.

Responding to the Chancellor’s Statement, Head of Policy, Sarah Lee, commented:

“It is pleasing to see the Government pledge to double rural rate relief to 100% from April 2017. Through our “Rural Oscars” award scheme we are seeing first-hand the thousands of innovative rural businesses in our country and it is good to see that the Government wants to support them.

“We also welcome the emphasis the Chancellor placed on the need for smaller scale developments on the edge of existing settlements. I was glad to see the Chancellor demonstrate an awareness of the reasons why many communities may oppose developments in their areas due to concerns about pressure on infrastructure and provide funds to address this.

“One of the most important announcements for rural communities is the commitment to invest £1 billion in broadband and mobile technologies, and this investment in our digital infrastructure is to be welcomed.

“However, it is important that the Government does not lose sight of the fact that only 42% of premises in rural areas currently have access to the proposed Universal Service Obligation (USO) speed of 10Mbit/s. If our rural communities are going to be able to embrace all the opportunities that new technology provides then it is vital that we get the basics first. Central to this is ensuring that all those in rural communities have access to 3G and 4G networks.

“A key challenge facing many rural communities and businesses that are connected to the internet is a lack of skills and confidence to use digital technology. If rural communities are going to be able to utilise the opportunities that will be created by the Government’s investment in digital infrastructure then it is vital that the Government match this with invest in digital skills.”