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Rutland columnist discusses whether young people are being pushed out of the countryside

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Yesterday, on Wednesday, October 13, a significant survey on the future the countryside holds for our younger residents was published. It makes grim reading and should inform policy debate in such rural counties as Rutland when planning for the future through the Rutland Conversation and the new Local Plan, writes Uppingham resident, Ron Simpson.

The online survey was commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and conducted by YouGov. It found that a chronic lack of affordable housing, loneliness and poor public transport have left young people living in the countryside disillusioned.

Ron Simpson of the Uppingham Neighbourhood Forum (23429543)
Ron Simpson of the Uppingham Neighbourhood Forum (23429543)

It reveals that:

  • Only two in five young people living in rural areas (43 per cent) anticipate staying there over the next five years, with affordable housing being their biggest concern (72 per cent).
  • Social housing waiting lists continue to grow – separate analysis shows the backlog would take 121 years to clear in rural areas
  • More than three-quarters of young people who do not want to stay in the countryside surveyed said poor digital connectivity had influenced their desire to move (76 per cent).
  • Limited public transport and difficulty connecting with friends online appear to have increased feelings of isolation – 84 per cent of those looking to move away said loneliness was a factor

The statistics suggest that the government’s levelling up agenda could come too late for today’s rural young people. The soaring cost of housing was identified as the single biggest concern in this nationwide rural survey of 16 to 25-year-olds.

Amid delays to long awaited planning reforms, partly abandoned now it would appear, this unique survey of more than 1,000 young people living in rural areas found that fewer than 1 in 5 (18 per cent) think the future looks bright. Of those planning to leave, 84 per cent said affordable housing was an important factor in their decision.

One young respondent quoted in the survey report summed the situation up. “In developments, very often houses are labelled affordable – they just say it’s affordable housing – when it isn’t actually affordable. You don’t find very many starter homes or rental homes. It’s just really hurtful. I put quite a lot into my village and it sort of feels like I’m being pushed out. I don’t want to go. I really like living here but there’s just no option for me.”

Separate analysis by the countryside charity found the demand for social housing was growing nearly six times faster than the rate of supply in rural areas. Figures show 8,898 households were added to social housing waiting lists in 88 rural local authority areas between 2019/20, the last year for which figures are available, with just 1,453 social homes delivered. In total 176,058 rural families were waiting for accommodation in 2020, up from 167,160 in 2019.

Commenting on the survey findings, Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “A thriving countryside depends on young people being able to study, work and start families in rural areas. But the sad reality is that the majority of young people born and raised in the countryside feel they can no longer afford to live there – despite the overwhelming majority saying they would like to. A fraction of the young people we heard from feel they are listened to by decision makers. This is troubling, for their concerns came through loud and clear. We must do better. To really level up the countryside the government must, at a bare minimum, guarantee hourly flat fare bus services running from morning to midnight, seven days a week, for our rural towns and villages. We must ensure that everyone has access to reliable, affordable and convenient public transport.”

Here in Rutland a key way forward with truly affordable youth housing in the south of the county is being tackled by the formation of the Uppingham Homes Community Land Trust which will provide affordable homes for Uppingham and its surrounding villages. Such CLTs have been given a special exemption from the ‘right to buy outright’ legislation but can still offer homes for shared ownership or at a specially reduced rental. Uppingham Town Council is supporting the initiative.

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