Monday, 13 November 2017 07:22

Decline in services threatens rural life

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Decline in services threatens rural life

Rural life is in decline because countryside pubs, schools and post offices are closing, says a report.

Building just a few affordable homes for young families could enhance England’s towns and villages, according to the National Housing Federation study.

The Rural Life Monitor tracks the rate at which key services – including schools, post offices and pubs – are closing across rural England because of ageing and dwindling populations.

A lack of new affordable housing is driving young families and working-age people out of rural areas, says the federation.

In 2016, the cheapest homes in rural areas were 8.3 times the income of typical first-time buyers, considerably higher than in urban areas.

    Findings

Key findings of the report include:

* Over the last five years, 52 rural schools shut their doors to pupils – roughly one a month
* Post offices have closed at a similar rate – 81 have shut up shop since 2011
* Rural pubs have been closing at a rate of seven a week – more than 1,365 since March 2013.

This trend for diminishing village populations is set to continue with almost half of households in rural areas predicted to be aged 65 or over by 2039.

The new report highlights where the intervention of housing associations has kept pubs, schools and post offices open in rural areas.

In Northumberland, tidal Holy Island’s sole primary school was able to remain open thanks to the building of just four new affordable family homes.

In Shropshire, new homes helped keep The Pheasant pub open to locals.

Meanwhile, in Dorset, the development of six affordable rented homes kept the post office open in the small village of Toller Pocorum.

    In demand

Building genuinely affordable housing has never been more important in rural pockets of England, where more than 40,000 new homes are needed each year to keep up with demand.

David Orr, Chief Executive at the National Housing Federation, said: "Make no mistake, rural life as we know it is disappearing fast.

"Families and young people wanting to settle, work and grow in rural England are being priced out of areas they’ve known all their lives.

"The impact of this is huge.

"A lack of truly affordable housing is putting a huge strain on rural economies, populations and vital community services – schools are closing their doors forever to pupils and pubs are serving their last ever orders to locals."

Housing associations were intervening to stem this tide, said Mr Orr.

    Community-led

They were taking a community-led approach to breathing life into the countryside, building over 3,000 rural homes last year and starting work on over 3,700 more.

Mr Orr said: "They are proving that just a handful of high quality and affordable new homes can transform rural communities, and ensure that our villages and market towns can thrive for generations to come."

In July 2017, the sector created a dedicated “five-star plan” to ensure that all new rural housing contributes to local economies.

The Rural Life Monitor report can be downloaded here.

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