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Six innovative projects, designed to improve economic and social life in rural areas, are the winners of this year'...
Six innovative projects, designed to improve economic and social life in rural areas, are the winners of this year's Rural Challenge, environment secretary John Gummer announced today.

The announcement of the results of this year's competition comes just a month after the publication of the White Paper on 'Rural England'.

The winners, who will each receive £1m from the Rural Development Commission to spend over the next three years, are: Bakewell, Derbyshire; Jaywick, Essex; Stainforth, South Yorkshire; Swaffham, Norfolk; The High Weald, East Sussex; and West Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

'The Rural White Paper has put rural areas at the top of our agenda,' Mr Gummer said.

'I am delighted that we have been able to support six innovative proposals put forward by such dynamic partnerships.

'They all include a healthy mix of private, public and voluntary sector interests. All will boost their local economies and communities while respecting or enhancing the environment.

'We have been impressed by the standard of all 16 bids this year. The partnerships involved have shown a great deal of commitment in getting to grips with the problems in their areas. This is exactly the sort of approach I was hoping for when I launched the White Paper with Douglas Hogg'.

BAKEWELL IN DERBYSHIRE: regeneration of an historic Peak District town through the relocation of the livestock market and construction of an associated agricultural centre with facilities for businesses. The redevelopment of the town centre, a new community centre and the provision of a variety of training programmes will all contribute to giving new hope to this rural area.

JAYWICK IN ESSEX: reduction of unemployment and upgrading the physical and social environment of this former holiday resort. New community transport links will be provided and a training centre and workshops will provide new opportunities for jobseekers. In addition, crime prevention measures and environmental improvements will make the town a better place in which to live and work.

STAINFORTH IN SOUTH YORKSHIRE: putting life back into this former colliery village near Doncaster by providing training and employment opportunities and renovating the village centre. A Youth Council will be created to give voice to the young people of the area and new sporting facilities will be provided.

SWAFFHAM IN NORFOLK: regeneration of a small market town through the development of a new Eco-Tech Centre. This will attract visitors to a range of demonstrations of environmentally-friendly technology. In addition, a business park adjacent to the Centre will be created for new and innovative firms related to the environment and with the potential for sustainable growth. Education and training programmes will be developed to meet the needs of both the local community and the new businesses.

THE HIGH WEALD IN EAST SUSSEX: creating a Woodland Enterprise Centre to capitalise on the new business opportunities from sustainable forestry. Twenty hectares of neglected woodland will be restored along with a redundant industrial area which will be converted to a sawmill and workspace. Interpretive material such as woodland trails will be provided and new community facilities will be built. The woodland theme of this bid appealed to the judges in the wake of the targets for new forestry announced in the White Paper.

WEST CORNWALL AND THE SCILLY ISLES: again this bid echoes the themes of the White Paper by proposing to use Information Technology to boost the tourist industry in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Forty 'Signpost Centres' will be established each providing a comprehensive information service for residents and visitors. Local business will be trained in using the facilities and new attractions, including 30 walking routes linked to public transport, will be developed.

Sixteen bids were submitted in the final round of this year's Rural Challenge. They were judged by panels chaired by either Earl Ferrers or James Clappison, ministers at the Department of the Environment, and including either Lord Shuttleworth, Chairman of the Rural Development Commission, or Robin Thompson, Deputy Chairman.

The judging panel decided that the winning bids stood out as they successfully combined imaginative plans for regeneration with realistic targets. In particular, the panel was impressed by the following features:

- the Bakewell bid will lever in almost £4.5m from other sources

- the Jaywick bid set out a clear and realistic appraisal of the needs and opportunities within the area and targets for meeting and exploiting these

- Stainforth showed especially strong community involvement

- the Norfolk bid was commended for its high degree of innovation

- the East Sussex bid demonstrated strong concern for enhancing the natural environment

- the Cornwall bid set out imaginative plans for using Information Technology to link remote areas and boost the local economy

Lord Shuttleworth also congratulated the winners saying:

'All the partnerships involved in this year's Rural Challenge are paving the way for the rejuvenation of rural areas. This year's winners will build on the achievements of the Rural Development Commission and its partners in providing new opportunities for those who live and work in the countryside.'

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