Warning that rural communities left behind by LEPs

A new survey from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has shown that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have a negative impact on the countryside and neglect rural regions.

According to the CPRE report, LEPs are perceived by almost 60 per cent of respondents as having a negative impact on issues affecting the countryside. The research also found that LEPs may be 'entrenching inequalities within and between English regions rather than removing them', with investment three times more likely in an already economically buoyant area than one in social need.

Despite having a key responsibility in administering the Rural Development Programme for England, only 21 per cent of LEPs featured in the survey were perceived as aiding the development of affordable rural housing and just 14 per cent work to address or improve rural transport. 

The absence of investment in rural economies, which provide 13 per cent of England’s employment, exacerbates issues facing much of the country, such as the need for more regeneration, housing, sustainable transport, broadband connectivity and support for new entrants into farming. 

CPRE believes that LEPs should be expected to produce and publish a Rural Plan, as well as prioritised investment in sustainable public transport, and the introduction of robust transparency and accountability measures. CPRE believes that though taking sure measures, rural areas will be better supported, and their economic potential utilised. 

Paul Miner, head of Strategic Plans and Devolution at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "Local enterprise partnerships are supposed to be more sensitive to the needs of rural communities, businesses and economies than the regional development agencies they replaced. But our local groups are telling us that too often LEPs are remote, back developments that will happen anyway, and are not doing enough to support rural regeneration. Rural businesses, including small farms, account for almost a quarter of all registered businesses in England – their importance to our economy cannot be ignored any more.

"The imbalance of investment between rural and urban areas is a real threat to growth in these communities, and will lead to our precious countryside becoming increasingly neglected in the future. An increase in transparency and the production of a Rural Plan at the very least, is urgently needed to help prevent rural communities from being left behind."