Green economy could bring 'missing generation' back to North Yorkshire, says rural commission expert

The green agenda could generate a whole range of new employment opportunities for North Yorkshire if the county can build enough homes to bring back the "missing generations" of young people, according to a leading academic.

Professor Sally Shortall, one of the experts behind the landmark North Yorkshire Rural Commission report, described rural communities as “ageing and declining in population”.

She suggested a shift to a green economy could be key to post-pandemic recovery but that “if we want to attract a younger workforce working in these green economy jobs, they have to have somewhere to live.”

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As reported by The Yorkshire Post on Saturday, a two-tier labour market has emerged in North Yorkshire, with a sharp divide in the wages of different sectors.

Professor Sally Shortall described rural communities as “ageing and declining in population”.
Professor Sally Shortall described rural communities as “ageing and declining in population”.

Workers in the care, leisure, accommodation and food sectors receive far lower incomes than employees in the engineering and technical industries, which supply companies including Jaguar, Land Rover and Boeing.

The commission also highlighted a role for North Yorkshire leading in green employment including food, farming, forestry, and renewable energy.

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North Yorkshire could “generate a whole range of new employment opportunities” Prof Shortall said, if the county “ really addresses the climate change questions that it needs to and the energy transition.”

“You’ll need electrical engineers to design and manage wind turbines, we’ll need electricians to fit heat pumps and domestic solar panel systems, we'll need heating engineers and plumbers.”

She went on: “It’s about driving a different type of economy for remote and rural areas but I think the thing that’s really important and about housing to bring back the missing generations is that none of these things are going to happen unless it’s driven by policy.”

It has been estimated that if North Yorkshire had the same percentage of younger adults aged between 20 and 44 years old as the national average, there would be an additional 45,551 people living in the county. And the commission's report says a lack of younger workers in the area has left a £1.4bn hole in the county’s economy.

Prof Shortall told the Yorkshire Post: “England has been going on about affordable rural housing for a very long time but the problem is that rural England is really beautiful, it’s very preserved so there’s always objections to plans to build houses in rural and remote areas but the point is these areas are just unsustainable without some increased housing provision.

“If we don’t do that, rural communities are just unsustainable, they’re aging and they’re declining in population.”

The expert in the rural economy in post as the Duke of Northumberland Chair of Rural Economy at the University of Newcastle is one of eight commissioners of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission - the first of its kind in England - who have just released their first report.

They have advocated a policy of building five new houses in every parish of North Yorkshire, something Professor Shortall says could bring more than 3,500 new homes to the area.

They propose that 40 per cent of these new homes be ring fenced for rental, in an attempt to make them more attractive to young people as part of an “investment in appropriate solutions for the economy in North Yorkshire and the remote rural economy.”

She explained: “If you’re in your 20s or 30s you’re happy to rent, and that means there will be housing stock available for people coming back for jobs.”

The Rural Commission’s report had blamed ingrained and complex issues for the scarcity of the younger generation in North Yorkshire, including a lack of affordable housing, school closures due to falling pupil numbers and a decline in local services such as pubs and local shops because of a lack of customers.

“The only people who can afford to live in rural areas at the moment mostly are older retired people” Professor Shortall said.

“So 25 per cent of rural and remote North Yorkshire are over 65 whereas the national average is 13 per cent. These communities are then unsustainable because they don’t have services, they don’t have schools and so on. If we want to attract a younger workforce working in these green economy jobs, they have to have somewhere to live.”