Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Action to support rural communities announced

100,000 homes and businesses in the most remote and rural parts of the UK will be further supported to access substantially improved broadband connections, under plans outlined by the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey today (Monday 2 October).

The government is committed to ensuring rural communities have access to reliable gigabit-capable broadband connection across the UK, with a target of reaching 85% of premises by 2025 and to reach as close to 100 per cent as soon as possible after.

However, a small minority of premises in rural and remote areas of the UK – known as ‘Very Hard to Reach Premises’ – are unlikely to benefit directly from the substantial activity across the telecoms industry to deliver gigabit-capable broadband services. This can be caused by their isolated location, low population density or limited existing telecoms infrastructure – all of which can make them challenging to connect.

Consultations published today outline plans to review and update the broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) which already gives homeowners and businesses the legal right to request an affordable, decent broadband connection, and to develop and assess future policy to improve broadband connectivity for Very Hard to Reach Premises.

Alongside the measures to improve rural connectivity, the Secretary of State set out the government’s plans to level up rural communities by unlocking new homes in rural areas and investing in new technology to improve local transport links.

The ‘Future of Transport: Helping local authorities to unlock the benefits of technology and innovation in rural transport’ will support local authorities, transport planners, bus operators and transport companies explore how emerging technologies could be deployed in non-urban areas.

Secretary of State for Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey said:

“Our countryside, home to millions of people, is rich in potential and we want to make sure that everyone can develop their skills and reach the opportunities for success.

“So whether through improved connectivity, housing or transport I’m championing rural communities as we seek to grow our economy – so that every part of our country gets the support it needs to thrive.”

Secretary of State for Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey announced:

  • A consultation on reviewing and updating the Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) which already gives homeowners and businesses the legal right to request an affordable, decent broadband connection.
  • A consultation on further proposals to improve broadband provision for Very Hard to Reach Premises, which are unlikely to receive a gigabit-capable connection via either a commercial or government funded intervention. This will ensure communities with the most limited connectivity experience a step-change in their digital connectivity as soon as possible, fuelling the economy and supporting jobs growth for decades to come.
  • A statement from Homes England setting out its work to support rural communities and families by enabling the delivery of more good quality, affordable homes. The statement includes case studies of successful rural housing schemes currently operating within Cornwall and the Yorkshire Dales.
  • The publication of ‘Future of Transport: Helping local authorities to unlock the benefits of technology and innovation in rural transport’ to help rural local authorities, their communities and other stakeholders to harness transport innovation, helping to improve access to services, tackle isolation and increase access to jobs in rural and remote areas.

The announcements build on the Unleashing Rural Opportunity paper published in June, which outlines how government will deliver the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy, creating better paid jobs and opportunity across the country.

Defra also continues its rural proofing work whereby all government policy is examined to ensure it is delivering for rural communities. The next rural proofing report will be published later this year.

This follows a decade of action that has boosted rural connectivity and opportunity, from our flagship Project Gigabit programme that has already helped to deliver high-speed, reliable and future-proof broadband to more than 75 per cent of the nation, to improving access to doctors in underserved areas, fixing millions of potholes and resurfacing thousands of miles of road on which our rural communities rely.

Further information

  • This a broad range of steps the government is taking to boost rural communities on housing, transport, digital connectivity and jobs as set out in Unleashing Rural Opportunity.
  • Rural areas already contribute over 15% to England’s economy, which amounts to over £270 billion of our national GDP, but the programme seeks to unlock further growth.
  • This builds on significant government action since 2010 to support rural communities including in March it announced the grant awards of the Rural England Prosperity Fund, a £110 million rural top-up to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to support levelling up across the UK. It will support initiatives such as farm diversification, projects to boost tourism, and community infrastructure projects such as electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Huge improvements have also been made over the last decade to support connectivity in rural areas. Over 75% of UK premises can now access gigabit-capable broadband, [up from 6% at the beginning of 2019], and over 730,000 premises have already been upgraded in hard-to-reach rural areas as part of our £5 billion Project Gigabit investment.
  • Investing, jointly with industry, £1 billion in the Shared Rural Network to improve 4G mobile coverage throughout the UK to reach 95% geographic coverage by the end of 2025.
  • Help for rural low-income households to move to cheaper heating. Up to £378 million is being made available in grants, ring-fenced for rural areas, to fund energy efficiency and clean heating upgrades for low-income households living off the gas grid in England.

On the Boiler Upgrade Scheme:

  • Our Boiler Upgrade Scheme is supporting families across the country with costs, with over £81 million in vouchers issued in the first year. The scheme recently received a 50% increase in funding from £5,000 to £7,500 – making it one of the most generous support schemes of its kind in Europe.
  • The Prime Minister recently set out proposals to make it easier and cheaper for households to install heat pumps. We remain fully focused on meeting our aim of 600,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028.  
  • While most off-grid properties will ultimately switch to heat pumps, not all buildings are suitable for one – instead, these properties will need a range of technologies and approaches to help decarbonise their heating and reach our net zero goals. We are currently looking into whether these could include high temperature heat pumps, hybrid heat pumps, solid biomass, and renewable liquid fuels, like HVO – and we will publish our recommendations on this in due course.


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