NEW Farming Minister David Heath has declared superfast broadband to be the Government’s top priority for rural businesses in Cumbria.

During a whistle-stop tour of South Lakeland today, Mr Heath described the current broadband provision in the county as ‘terrible’.

“A decent internet connection is essential to economic growth and I know that this is felt particularly keenly in the uplands,” he said. “I can reassure you that change is coming - we’ve promised a better superfast broadband network than anywhere in Europe and are cutting red tape and investing in the infrastructure needed to achieve it.”

During his trip, part of a ‘rural roadshow’ being undertaken by all Defra ministers, Mr Heath met representatives of a range of rural organisations, including Countryside Alliance, National Farmers’ Union, the National Sheep Association (NSA) and Natural England.

Mr Heath said: “Cumbria’s uplands are not just home to some of the most inspiring landscapes in the country, but they support thousands of farms and businesses and they should not be held back just because of their location.”

He said he would listen to business experts ‘to take their advice on what more the Government can do to grow the rural economy and create local jobs’.

“I expect the terrible provision of superfast broadband will be at the top of all our agendas,” he added.

As part of his tour, Mr Heath visited Kendal’s new auction mart next to J36 of the M6 as well as the town’s existing auction site. He also met businesses at Lakeland Food Park and visited sausage maker Plumgarths and Asda’s Kendal store, which stocks the sausages.

Plumgarth director and chairman of the NSA John Geldard said: “I think it is vital that ministers visit the area and I am absolutely delighted that Mr Heath has taken the time to come, as I think that when people come from London to the country it makes conversations much more productive and easier.”