Rural areas will receive millions of pounds in funding once the Countryside Agency is stripped of its spending powers under Government reforms, Advantage West Midlands has pledged.

The Regional development agency announced its plans as new reforms come into effect which will see it take on a £7 million budget to spend on countryside schemes.

Planned projects include the redevelopment of Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, which the agency is investing £24 million in, and continued support for the Market Towns Initiative, which has seen investment of £500,000 from AWM as part-funding for £1 million programmes in a number of towns.

The plans, outlined in AWM document Rural Renaissance, come after concerns were raised about the agency's commitment to countryside issues.

Campaign groups, such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, have expressed fears that the cash would be swallowed up by a commitment to urban schemes.

But AWM said its strategy, for rural schemes, included five key areas.

These are: supporting rural business growth, learning and skills, developing a modern rural infrastructure, regenerating communities, and championing the rural West Midlands.

According to the agency, rural areas of the region have, on average, lower unemployment rates and higher business start-up rates and levels of self-employment than in other areas of the country.

However, there is a dependence on traditional rural sectors and a high dependence on a few large employers.

Schemes already supported by AWM include the Highley project in Shropshire, which involved the construction of a new community centre to improve access to services to help combat social exclusion, and the formation of a rural hub in Staffordshire, which is a business-led network providing a base for improved communication, learning and innovative and takes some collaborative approaches to projects.