The Development Commission was a permanent Royal commission set-up under the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act 1909 to advise and administer the Development Fund voted annually by Parliament to benefit the rural economy of England. In 1988, the Development Commission amalgamated with the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas (CoSIRA), to form the Rural Development Commission (RDC). In April 1999, the RDC merged with the Countryside Commission to become the Countryside Agency, although there was a residual RDC in existence until June 2000 which dealt with pensions, audit, etc, and produced a final annual report.
In order to target its resources on the rural areas of greatest economic and social need, the commission established a system of priority areas in the 1960s known as Trigger areas. These were then expanded into Areas of Pull in 1970, Special Investment areas in 1975 and Pockets of Need in 1977. The Rural Development Areas were first introduced in 1984.
The original scope of the Development Fund was reduced and altered by subsequent legislation and administrative action. Powers respecting advances for forestry and transport purposes were removed on the creation of the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Transport respectively in 1919. Functions relating to agricultural research, advisory and education services were transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on 1 April 1946, and powers to make grants and loans for fishery harbours were transferred under the Fisheries Act 1955. Functions in relation to marine and freshwater biology and fishery research were transferred to the Natural Environment Research Council in 1965.
The commission maintained a major responsibility for the development of rural industries from its inception. From 1921, it funded the Rural Industries Bureau, and from 1940 the Rural Industries Loan Fund. In 1968 the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas was established by the merging of these two organisations.
The Development Commission was a body of eight commissioners appointed by Royal Warrant. Its statutory function was to consider all applications which are made for advances from the Development Fund. Advances were made by way of loan, or partly by grant and partly by loan. Until 1971, advances were made only with the approval of the Treasury, which could veto the commissioner's recommendations, but could not make any advance from the fund without such recommendation. Since that time these powers have been exercised by the Department of the Environment.
Expenditure became on a relatively small scale, of the order of £1 million per annum, but was spread over a wide range of work of which the general intention was the strengthening of the rural economy by a variety of means. Only bodies not trading for profit were eligible for help from the fund. An annual report was made by the commissioners and laid before Parliament.