Following the coalition government’s decision to abolish Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP) has been in turmoil.
The ERDP forms part of the Common Agricultural Policy and elements of the programme had been developed and administered at a regional level by the RDAs. Thus their abolition has left a vacuum and threatened the delivery of European funds for the remainder of the programme which runs to the end of 2013.
However the government has recognised this problem and has taken the scheme back in hand to be administered by DEFRA. What this means is that they have done away with the regional delivery programmes and developed and national programme so there is now conformity across the country.
To my mind this makes a great deal of sense because under the old scheme, whether or not a farmer or rural business qualified for grant aid depended on the programme which was developed by the various RDAs. This lead to unfairness on occasions where for instance a business in Hampshire may have qualified for grant aid whereas across the regional and county border in Wiltshire, a very similar business may not have.
As you can imagine, the process of harmonising the various regional schemes has taken time and some difficult decisions have had to be made on what schemes to drop, although the national programme is now just getting up and running. The first of the new schemes which is about to be launched is called the “small capital grant scheme”.
This is an exciting opportunity for farmers although funds are likely to be limited and so farmers and foresters should be ready to make an application the moment the grant scheme opens which it is believed will be sometime in mid-November.
The scheme will initially be open for about eight weeks before it closes to allow the applications to be assessed and then the scheme will open again for another eight weeks and so on until the funds are exhausted.
The grant aid will vary from £2,500 to £25,000 although until the rules are published it is difficult to be precise as to exactly what investment proposals will qualify but in broad terms it is understood the money will be targeted at increasing the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sectors.
James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells