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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 04:58 GMT 05:58 UK
People seek 'country life' values
People value the countryside's rich heritage and natural beauty
Increasing numbers of people are leaving England's towns for rural areas in the hope of improving their quality of life, the Countryside Agency says.

About 115,000 more people a year migrate to rural areas compared with the numbers moving to towns, the State of the Countryside Report 2004 says.

Many move because they expect to find less crime, better access to nature and unpolluted, heritage-rich surroundings.

But population growth may threaten the elements they value, the agency warns.

Pam Warhurst, chairwoman of the Countryside Agency, said the increase in people moving into remoter areas could have a negative effect on existing dwellers.

More and more people are moving there to live - and why shouldn't they have that choice?
Countryside Agency chairwoman Pam Warhurst

And she warned more development and house building could only come at a cost to the environment.

"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."

She said the Countryside Agency had tried to develop a way to measure people's perception of quality of life so policy makers could see how it changed over time.

The report showed almost a quarter of England's rural landscapes had been "affected by marked change" during the 1990s.

"While some changes, like unsightly developments, may have been harmful to the character of the countryside, others, such as the planting of new woodland for our 12 community forests, have enhanced their local landscapes," she said.

Information for the study, compiled using data from a MORI survey from February 2004, showed urban and rural dwellers shared many of the same values.

Affordable housing

The top priority for 70% of people surveyed in both rural and urban areas was freedom from crime.

But people in rural areas are more concerned about access to affordable housing, education and transport than those living in communities of 250,000 or more.

Urban dwellers put more emphasis on reducing traffic congestion and pollution - but are responsible for bringing more cars to the countryside through leisure trips and commuting to work.

Shogun generic
Urban migrants bring increased traffic to country roads

But leisure visits to the country generated some 10bn a year to local economies, benefiting the 20% of people across the country who wanted to see improved job prospects.

Rural people tend to live longer and have better health than urban dwellers, the report said, but may find it harder to access services.

The Countryside Agency said balancing the needs of rural residents with their desire for an unspoilt natural environment was a "dilemma".

"People want rural services developed but tend to resist further development in the countryside," the report said.

"There is a real challenge in reconciling such contradictions... especially if the resultant changes may in some ways damage people's present vision of the countryside as a better place to live."

What makes England a good place to live
How the priorities of different-sized communities vary (all %)
Factors Under 3,000 3,000-10,000 All rural Over 250,000 All urban Total England
Low crime level 68 74 71 69 70 70
Health services 61 61 61 56 59 59
Affordable housing 61 65 63 53 58 58
Education 66 49 55 52 53 53
Public transport 58 49 52 52 52 52
Pollution 42 50 47 46 48 48
Traffic congestion 36 39 38 39 41 40
Source: Mori 2004

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