I thank the Seanad for the invitation to address it on rural development issues. We had a very good discussion on the policies and programmes of the Department of Rural and Community Development last December, and I hope we will have an equally good discussion today. On that occasion, this new Department had been established for less than six months and the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development had been in place for less than a year. Although a relatively short time has passed since I last addressed the House, there has been a great deal of progress over the last six months. We are beginning to see the tangible impact of the Government's investment in rural development.
The second progress report on the Action Plan for Rural Development was published earlier this month. It shows an implementation rate of over 90% regarding the 271 actions which were due for delivery across the Government in 2017. Most importantly, these actions are making a real and tangible difference to the lives of people who live in rural areas.
In 2017, employment increased in almost every region of the country. Employment numbers outside the Dublin region grew by 56,200 last year. This accounted for 84% of all employment created in the country. Some 281 projects were funded by my Department under the town and village renewal scheme in 2017. This brought to over 450 the total number of projects support under the scheme since 2016. In April, I launched a further round of funding under the town and village renewal scheme, with an allocation of €15 million for this year. Over 900 Leader projects have been approved by local action groups and are getting under way, with more than 300 further projects going through the approvals process. The development of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East initiatives has led to more people than ever visiting and experiencing rural Ireland, thereby boosting employment in local economies. A new brand for the midlands region, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, has been launched by Fáilte Ireland.
Additional investment is being made in public roads. The reintroduction of the local improvement scheme in 2017 provided funding of €17 million for non-public roads. I have allocated further investment of €10 million under the local improvement scheme in 2018, which will bring the total number of roads supported since September 2017 to over 1,100. Under the CLÁR programme, funding of just under €7 million was approved for 231 projects in 2017, bringing to over 900 the number of projects which have been approved for funding under CLÁR since I relaunched the programme in 2016. The 2018 CLÁR programme was launched in March and my Department is assessing the 400 proposals that have been received.
Some 240 projects with a value of €13.6 million were approved under the 2017 outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme to improve walking trails, greenways and other recreational amenities. Over €20 million has been allocated to 370 projects under this scheme since 2016. Many other Government initiatives equally support rural development. The details of these measures are set out in the progress report on the Action Plan for Rural Development. The action plan demonstrates that rural development is not the responsibility of a single Minister. My role is to ensure a co-ordinated approach is taken to rural development across the Government and to encourage my Cabinet colleagues to work together to achieve the objectives the Government has set for rural Ireland.
I would like to speak about the rural regeneration fund. The launch of Project Ireland 2040 by the Government has been perhaps the most significant development for rural Ireland since I last spoke in this Chamber. The two elements of this initiative are the national planning framework and the national development plan. Project Ireland recognises the value of rural areas to Ireland’s identity and overall national development. The plan is good for rural Ireland. Many of the strategic objectives in the national planning framework will benefit rural areas through investment in sectors like transport, energy and tourism.
My Department will have a key role to play in achieving the planning framework's objective of strengthened rural economies and communities. It will also be responsible for overseeing the new rural regeneration and development fund which forms part of the national development plan. Under this new fund, which is a tremendous boost for rural Ireland, the Government has committed to investing an additional €1 billion in rural development over ten years. This level of investment is a defining moment for rural Ireland because it will help rural communities across the country to realise their full potential. The fund will seek to bring together investment across different Departments and agencies, local authorities and communities to deliver ambitious joined-up projects that will have a significant impact on rural towns, villages and outlying areas. I am finalising the details of the rural regeneration fund with my Government colleagues and hope to make an announcement on it shortly.
The final point I want to make relates to realising the potential of rural areas. We have a tremendous opportunity to make a significant difference for the people who live in rural Ireland. Since I came into this job, I have being saying we have to change the way we talk about rural Ireland. Rural Ireland is not dead. It is full of potential and energetic people who get things done. It can offer a quality of life that attracts people to our country to live and to work. It has many great entrepreneurs who are creating jobs throughout our regions.
We can still make improvements to ensure our towns and villages are sustainable. In particular, we need to support areas that have not yet seen the signs of recovery. As public representatives, we all have a role to play in changing the perception of rural Ireland. We all know stories about initiatives that are making a difference in rural areas. I see these good projects as I travel the country. We need to highlight the positives and try to help areas and communities that need extra support.
I thank the House for the opportunity to set out some of the developments that have taken place since I last addressed the House. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members to this discussion. I will be happy to answer any questions that Senators may have.