Lack of homes threatens English village life, experts warn

Archive Photo: A fishing boat makes its way out to sea past the garden of a holiday cottage, at the port village of Polperro, Cornwall, UK, May 4, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Thousands of English villages face stagnation because no new affordable homes are being built

By Adela Suliman

LONDON - Thousands of English villages face stagnation because no new affordable homes are being built there, experts said on Monday, warning of a "cycle of decline" in rural areas.

A new study found 2,154 English villages had been deemed "unsustainable" - meaning they did not qualify for new affordable housing - and urged authorities to do more to ensure young people could live in them and secure their survival.

"New homes are important to keep these communities thriving," said Matthew O'Connell author of the report published by the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), which represents rural landowners in England and Wales.

"The lack of housing is having an impact on rural areas and it's something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Britain is experiencing a national housing crisis as homebuilding has declined since the 1970s, driving up property prices faster than wages. The government has set an ambitious target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.

But the villages that fared worse, which are concentrated in the rural English counties of Cornwall, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire, were less likely to qualify for new affordable housing because they lacked services such as accessible post offices, pubs or good bus networks.

The CLA said those assessments were outdated. The rural housing crisis is driving young people out of villages, fraying social ties and creating a "demographic imbalance", said O'Connell.

"It's about looking beyond the chocolate box image and seeing that if we want these places to continue being beautiful, thriving countryside places, we need to make sure that we are making room for the next generation," he said.

In August, Britain announced plans to build hundreds of thousands of new rural homes along its 'Green Belt' - protected areas in the English countryside - but only 22 percent of those homes will be affordable, according to estimates by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The CPRE, an English charity that works to protect the countryside, welcomed the CLA research, saying many rural communities were being disadvantaged by planning policies.

"Most people that move to villages are doing so to retire there or to have a holiday home or to escape the rat race," said its head of planning Matt Thomson.

"So the housing that gets built in villages is driven by people who can afford to live in villages rather than the people who actually need to live there."

Along with improving transport links and better mobile-phone and internet coverage in rural areas, affordable housing is a "pinch-point" issue said Thomson, adding that more power should be given to local people to resolve the issue.

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