The main part of the Countryside Agency's budget for 2004–05 will be directed towards its strategic priorities, which include demonstrating ways of boosting essential rural services, building thriving communities, managing the countryside in a sustainable way and improving recreation and access in the countryside. The grant-in-aid budget for 2004–05 compares with a growth from £49.0 million in 1999–2000, £52.6 million in 2000–01, £90.8 million in 2001–02, £98.7 million in 2002–03 and a planned £100.0 million in 2003–04. The Agency will be able to continue to make a substantial contribution towards Defra's work for sustainable development in rural areas and deliver on key objectives including:
supporting Rural Transport Partnership officers funding the second and third years of existing Rural Transport projects supporting Rural Housing Enablers to secure affordable homes continuing the core funding for rural community councils and supporting the community development workers helping all rural communities benefit from funds committed to communities through the Vital Villages grant schemes maintaining total Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty funding at 2003–04 levels.
Some £14.2 million will be spent in 2004–05 in supporting the Vital Villages programme, although the Countryside Agency has announced the closure of the grant schemes to new applicants. The Agency is targeting its resources on meeting all existing grant commitments under the programme and helping communities benefit from the funds already committed to them. It will also work to share the lessons learnt with regional and local delivery bodies.