THE housing crisis gripping rural England is having a disastrous effect on older and younger people alike as they are forced out of the countryside in their droves, experts have warned.
The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) has highlighted how the lack of specialist housing suitable for supporting elderly people in rural areas is dramatically lowering their quality of life - or forceing them to move into larger towns and cities and away from their roots.
The CRC report on isolation states: “If older people are to continue to live in their own communities, they will need to have suitable housing which makes that possible.”
Rural house-building has fallen to its lowest level in decades, however, and the knock-on effect on villages and hamlets is bleak as house prices continue to rise.
Sue Chalkley, chief executive of Hastoe Housing Association - which provides rural housing across large parts of the south of England - told Parliament’s environment select committee that soaring house prices and the disappearance of key services such as village schools and local shops are forcing families to move away.
“A lot of villages still have that inter-generational support network that works so well,” she said. “It actually is the Government’s ‘Big Society’ in action in these rural villages, and once you prevent the children of the families being able to stay in their home village, they move away and it’s gone forever.
“The schools close, the post offices close... And then there’s no hope - it’s gone and it just becomes a retirement village.”
Graham Biggs of the Rural Services Network said the problem is exacerbated by people living in towns and cities who buy second homes in the countryside.
“I think it’s a massive problem in many, many rural areas,” he said. “In fact, you may even regard it as the thing that kicked off high property prices in the first instance – with people being able to move out of urban areas and sell their relatively small property for a relatively large amount of money, and buy the equivalent of a mansion in a rural area.
“We’re even seeing cottages now being bought as second home,s so I think it does add demonstrably to the housing crisis.”
MS Chalkley said 2.8 per cent of people in the UK now have second homes - an “extraordinary amount”.