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Hansard 11 July: Column 684 ...
Hansard 11 July: Column 684

The long-awaited - and delayed - rural white paper is expected to be published in the autumn, environment minister Michael Meacher told MPs.

Replying to George Turner, Labour MP for North-west Norfolk, he said it would take into account 'the extremely good document' published by the rural group of Labour MPs, adding: 'It will be a wide-ranging, practical and ambitious paper covering the whole range of rural services: regeneration, access to services, new directions for agriculture, social exclusion, rural empowerment, conservation and recreation'.

He said regional development agencies, in pursuing rural development, had at their direct disposal the£29m rural programme and about£70m to be spent on rural areas from single regeration budget funds.

But Liberal Democrat spokesman Don Foster asked why some many of the government's regeneration initiatives had been underspent: the single regeneration budget underspent by£45m since 1997; the EU regional development fund by£0.25bn since 1994; and the new deal for communities spent only 2% of its budget in 1998-99, and less than half last year.

Mr Meacher replied: 'We are aware of the underspend, but we are working with local communities precisely to increase their capacity to utilise those funds. He has ignored the fact that the actual spend on countryside programmes will increase in the current three-year period from£128 million in 1998-99 to a projected£174m by 2001-02, which is an increase of almost 40%.

In addition, the minister of agriculture, fisheries and food announced the rural development plan, which includes a 60% increase and a degree of modulation for expenditure on the countryside.'

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