Antrim, Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey Councils have confirmed their intention to work together as a cluster for the delivery of the new Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme (NIRDP) 2007 - 2013.
The three Councils are the first group to make a formal commitment to work together to ensure the quick and effective delivery of the NIRDP in their Council areas.
Speaking at the announcement the Department of Agriculture's Director of Rural Development, Pauline Keegan said: "Our programme was the first UK programme to be approved. It is now a priority for the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, to ensure that this funding is made available to rural areas as soon as possible. The Minister is delighted that Councils are willing to work in partnership, both with each other, and eventually with a new Local Action Group, to ensure that no time is lost in getting these funds out to meet the needs of rural areas."
The Mayor of Antrim Borough Council Councillor Adrian Cochrane-Watson said: "The Council is delighted to be working in partnership with DARD and our colleagues in Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey to deliver this programme. We have worked with both Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey Borough Councils since 2002 administering the EU LEADER+ Programme and together we have been able to attract just under £1.4million to support rural businesses in our areas. This new programme offers the prospect of substantially more EU funding to help grow and sustain our local rural economies and I wish to express my appreciation to DARD and the Minister for providing us with this exciting opportunity."
The new Rural Development Programme is worth over £500million and comprises 14 separate measures aimed at improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector, improving the environment and the countryside and contributing towards the quality of life in rural areas and diversification of the rural economy.
Axis 3 of the programme includes measures such as diversification into non-agricultural activities, support for business creation and development, encouragement of tourism activities, basic services for the economy and rural population, village renewal and development and conservation and upgrading the rural heritage. These measures will deliver approximately £100million using the Leader methodology of "bottom up" approach. Delivery will be through a Local Action Group in partnership with the Council cluster for the area.