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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
'Priced off our own patch'
Richard Palmer and Hannah Tunnicliffe
Richard and Hannah: House proud in the city

A hunting ban is the least of the countryside's worries - house prices are high, earnings low and services are vanishing. Some country folk are being forced to head for the city.
When the time came for Richard Palmer to leave the family home and strike out on his own, he first looked to buy a place in the Derbyshire village his family had lived in for generations.

Not only did he want to stay close to relatives and friends, he had just got a job in the quarry up the road.

Estate agents' boards
Soaring prices - a problem in city and country
But property prices had been rising steadily in picturesque Stoney Middleton, which had long housed those working in the quarries, mines and factories in the craggy heights of the Peak District National Park. Richard, 27, found that he and his girlfriend, Hannah Tunnicliffe, 23, had been priced out of the market.

"The cheapest house in Stoney at the time was 89,000, which was about double the mortgage we were eligible for on our salaries," he says.

Renting was also unrealistic, as the few properties to let in the pretty Peaks village had been converted into trendy loft-style apartments or cosy retreats for affluent holidaymakers.

Peaks' towns such as Buxton are a magnet
"These places were on the market for at least 800 a month. When you earn little more than that a month, renting is out of the question."

Eventually they found a flat some miles away for just 200 a month. But the couple got what they paid for - tiny, no hot running water, no radiators.

Richard and Hannah now live in Derby, an industrial city in the south of the county, in a bungalow that was almost derelict when they bought it for 46,000. Richard is working in electrical engineering and Hannah as a park ranger.

Making the best of it

"It's taken us 12 months to get it habitable - that was the level of property we had to buy in order to get onto the property ladder."

Richard Palmer and Hannah Tunnicliffe at home
City living was a second choice for the pair
But it was a year of hard labour, carried out in between long commutes to their respective jobs. Unable to afford builders, electricians and the like, the pair swapped DIY favours with family and neighbours who had found themselves in the same predicament. Their work has paid off - the house is now worth 110,000.

"This is the only way we will be able to afford to get back into the countryside - to buy a house like this in an area like this three or four times."

As in other villages around the UK, Stoney Middleton has little to offer those on limited incomes. The modest dwellings once favoured by first-time buyers have shot up in value, and are now home to established families who may extend and improve rather than move up the property ladder. And of the 65 council houses that once provided affordable housing, today just six still belong to the local authority.

'Starter homes'

Nor is this a new problem. In 1980, newly-weds Carolyn and Allen Hodgkinson had to move to Chesterfield where a terrace house cost 15,000 compared with at least twice that in Stoney Middleton.

Carolyn looks back to when her starter home made local headlines
Seven years later the council, concerned at how locals could no longer afford to buy in the area, built 12 "starter homes", enabling the couple to return to the village they loved.

The couple, now in their forties, live there still, with their two youngest sons. The eldest, Simon, is in his final year of university. Carolyn fears he too will have to settle many miles from home, for the 1987 development was the first and last set of affordable homes built in the village.

"I don't know if and when he will want to return, but it would be a great shame if he did not have a choice. All my sons are very active in village life, they are just the kind of people who make it a great place to live," said Carolyn, now an administrator with an IT consultancy.

Malt store in Stoney Middleton propped up by scaffolding
This 300-year-old building partially collapsed when developers started work
And there's the rub. In a village where one-fifth of the houses are holiday homes, the lifeblood of the community thins. Richard points to that hub of the community, the village pub, by way of example.

"Decades ago there was something like 12 pubs in Stoney. That had dropped to two when I was a boy, and now it's down to one.

"Once everyone went to the pub every night because that was where everything happened, even community meetings. Today only Christmas and the mid-summer well-dressing festivals feel like old times because that's when everyone comes home. It's when my generation returns to the countryside."

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