21/06/2004

Rural homelessness rises as house prices soar, says report

Rural homelessness is rising and housing is becoming more unaffordable for local communities as more and more people leave the city for the countryside, according to a report published today.

The Countryside Agency's 'State of the Countryside 2004' report found that housing pressures were growing among existing rural dwellers – the most damaging effect being an increase in house prices which made fewer homes affordable for local families, in turn raising homelessness in remoter areas.

Around 14 million people – or 28.5% of the population – now live in England’s rural districts. The rural population grew on average by more than 81,000 (0.7%) a year compared with some 48,000 (0.1%) a year in urban areas between 1981 and 2002.

Net migration from urban to rural districts is estimated at 115,000 people a year in the 12 months to June 2002, the report found.

The overall proportion of homelessness was found to be lower in rural areas (38 rural households in every 10,000, compared with 68 urban households), but homelessness in remote districts increased by nearly 30% between 1999-2003.

Also, in six out of 10 key services there has been a slight decline (1-2%) in their geographical availability to rural households, but there is some evidence that this is due in part to more people moving to relatively remote areas, the agency said.

On the upside, the report found that incomers generate employment for local people as well as for themselves and that, in many areas, the number of rural businesses was growing faster than in urban areas.

Agriculture contributed £7.9 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) or 0.8% of total GVA to the UK economy – this proportion has been stable for the past three years, but is half the 1996 level.

Rural people also tended to live longer and have better health than urban dwellers; health services match national target standards but "accessibility barriers remain", according to the study.

Countryside Agency chair Pam Warhurst said: "Life in England’s countryside is good - for many. More and more people are moving there to live – and why shouldn’t they have that choice? There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good quality of life – but this pressure on the countryside has an unintended impact. Those who exercise their choice to move can reduce the choices of the less well-off in rural areas and affect the character of our countryside."

She added: "We need more facts and analysis in place of rhetoric and anecdote."

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael welcomed the report saying that it would help to develop policies and tackle the remaining pockets of poor economic performance and social conditions.

"England's rural areas can have strong economies, good employment opportunities, good access to services and attractive and safe surroundings," he said.

Steps to increase affordable housing include a £22 billion government programme to deliver new housing in growth areas. This should relieve the pressure on housing in the regions with the highest house prices, the Minister added.

(gmcg)

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