Villagers gloomy on future of rural life

Half the people living in the countryside expect rural communities to become less sustainable because of poor housing opportunities and an ageing population, a study has revealed.

A new study has shown people living in rural villages and hamlets are experiencing a growing series of problems and challenges from Government cutbacks while there is also a growing perception among young people and those aspiring to live in the countryside that rural areas are “inaccessible and exclusive”.

The warnings have been published in the Rural Insight Report, which also contains another bitter blow for Government’s Big Society agenda as it reveals a growing lack of support and respect for the programme amongst the UK’s rural communities.

Produced by the Rural Services Network, a membership organisation devoted to safeguarding and improving services in rural communities, the report is based on a survey conducted with more than 1,300 rural people up and down the country.

The research discovered that nearly nine out of 10 people aged over 60 were finding it difficult to live in rural England because of the lack of services – a predicament that is likely to worsen as Government cutbacks take greater hold.

More than 60 per cent of people said they were already seeing a reduction in services while two-thirds of those asked reported a loss of community facilities in recent weeks.

The study also revealed a lack of faith in the voluntary-based approach to reform as espoused by the Big Society.

“There is an overwhelming sense that the implementation of the Big Society concept will be complicated and challenging in localities,” it states.

“A feeling in some quarters is that national policies constrain or circumscribe the effectiveness of local Government.”

Report author Ivan Annibal said: “This represents another wake up call for those who assume the Big Society will somehow spontaneously spring to life and come to their rescue.”

The Government’s localism agenda has come under criticism from rural communities in the past and Ministers’ plans to hand increased powers over planning applications to local communities have prompted concerns that even fewer affordable homes will be constructed in the countryside.

The Country Land and Business Association has previously gone on record as saying such an approach would be in effect creating a “Nimby’s charter”, referring to the “not in my back yard” mentality which often restricts development.

Broadband internet access also continues to be a problem for rural areas, despite recent moves to improve coverage throughout the countryside. A third of people said that internet access was insufficient for their work needs.

Altogether, the five biggest disadvantages to those living in the countryside were said to be poor access to public transport, unaffordable housing, poor employment opportunities, inadequate access to services and difficulties getting to and from work.

The study acknowledged low crime levels and attractive surroundings were attractive attributes for life in the countryside but high fuel costs, a lack of affordable rural housing, poor access to meaningful local employment and slow broadband speeds had combined to explode this “rural idyll”.