Like the first snows of a chilly winter, Google and Twitter have brought me a flurry of rather gloomy reports on the problems of rural life in the last couple of weeks.
First, a late crop of items on the inexorable rise of rural house-prices, driven by increased commuting and second-home ownership, like this one in the Telegraph or this on PropertyWire.com. Then in Management Today, a report on the general standard-of-living ‘gap’ between urban and rural lifestyles, and the Commission for Rural Communities reporting that a quarter of farmers live below the poverty-line…highlighting the plight of the UK’s hill-farmers, it has to be said, rather than Norfolk while grain prices are good!
The extra costs of rural life – largely to do with transport, apparently – explain why living in the countryside for ‘lifestyle’ reasons is only an option for the relatively affluent. And the relative affluence of these rural-urban commuters is what drives house-price inflation, making life difficult for those whose more modest income is connected directly to the land.
It is not hard to picture a degree of underlying antagonism between these two ‘tribes’ – the true country folk and the rural commuters – though as I admitted in a previous post, this is just a guess. I am a rural ‘townie’; I have never lived in a small village.
Those who choose to live in the country and commute to work in a nearby town or city, have probably moved, at least in part, to be in the ‘countryside’ – ‘England’s green and pleasant land’. The awkward fact is that the visual appeal of the English countryside is maintained for them by their genuinely ‘rural’ neighbours – the same ones who struggle to find affordable accommodation once the former townies have moved in. One solution to the rural house-price problem would be to crack down on rural-urban commuting somehow, but the less draconian and well-established approach is to build affordable homes in villages. In my view, the very least that a rural-urban commuter can do, having contributed to the problem, is not to try to scupper the solution. If a proposal for affordable homes emerges in a village, whether through a Community Right to Build or on a ‘Rural Exception’ site, particularly if it is aimed at local residents, surely everyone in a village should get behind it – provided it is modestly sized and well-designed, of course.
Anyway, I’m sure my ‘two tribes’ analysis is a gross over-simplification…and in the next post I will describe a project which demonstrates that wide-spread ‘buy-in’ across a community is not an impossible dream.