29/01/2010

Rural Blueprint Making Progress

There's a long-term strategic vision on the way for the development of rural areas throughout NI.

After the Stormont Executive's agreement on formulating a strategy last July, the NI Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew has outlined this week outlined progress made in developing the first Rural White Paper for NI.

Speaking after a meeting with rural stakeholders, held in Hillsborough, she said that the first phase of that work is complete.

"The focus of the White Paper work now shifts to Government, and my Department will continue to work with other Departments to identify specific actions that can be taken to address the challenges identified.

"There are several areas in which I am confident progress can be made – improving access to services and information, on issues like planning, transport, health and housing, in supporting rural businesses and farm families, and in ensuring rural dwellers have access to quality education and training," she explained.

The Minister continued: "One of the most important strands of the work relates to addressing the issues facing rural people, and in particular the need to support the

most vulnerable.

"This work is urgent and, through my Department's anti poverty and social inclusion work, we have already started tackling some of the issues.

"Rural transport, rural childcare and rural fuel poverty are issues already being tackled and it is important that we continue to take action whilst the White Paper is being developed.

"For my part, I will continue to bring forward these types of initiatives, to roll out our Rural Development Programme, and to champion rural issues within the Executive," she continued, noting that the Executive has the opportunity to recognise the significant social, economic and environmental contribution made by our rural communities; to identify the challenges and opportunities facing those communities; and most importantly, to see what actions need to be taken right across government to address these challenges and realise the opportunities.

"I want to make sure the focus is on action and I will be working hard with my Ministerial colleagues to ensure we have a White Paper which is ambitious, meaningful and lasting."

(BMcC/GK)

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