Page last updated at 02:00 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Jobs and homes shortages 'force young from rural areas'

Turville village
Local authorities must be more flexible on planning issues, the report says

A lack of jobs and affordable housing is driving young people out of the countryside, a report has warned.

The government's rural advocate Stuart Burgess said "deep concerns" over work, training, housing, transport and social exclusion existed across rural England.

He said planning rules must be loosened and broadband access improved if rural communities were to survive.

The government says it is working with its Commission for Rural Communities to address young people's needs.

Dr Burgess, the commission's chairman, reports rural communities' concerns as an adviser to ministers.

His team gathered evidence from across England to assemble the report - which was handed directly to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Wider availability of Job Centre Plus, Connexions, and apprenticeships
Renewed focus on providing integrated public transport
Rural areas prioritised for next generation broadband access and improved phone coverage
A more creative and flexible approach to planning
Schools and universities to raise young people's aspirations

Dr Burgess said: "Wherever I go, I hear deep concerns - that challenges with housing, work, transport, training and social exclusion are preventing young people from living in the countryside.

"Without young people to provide a work force, rural economies are unable to fulfil their full potential and rural communities can go into a decline."

He said a lack of broadband and mobile phone coverage in many rural areas was preventing businesses from recruiting and young people from accessing jobs and support in education and training.

The report said demand for new housing in the countryside was expected to grow by 35% between 2006 and 2031, compared to 27% in urban areas.

Despite this, social housing accounts for only 13% of stock in rural areas, compared to 22% in big towns and cities.

Despite high levels of youth unemployment in rural areas, there are also far fewer job centres.

'Viability at risk'

And while 60% of urban areas have access to high-speed cable-based broadband, the figure for villages and hamlets is just 1.5%.

The study calls for local authorities to be "more creative and flexible" over planning issues and says more employment guidance and apprenticeships should be on offer.

It also insists the government should prioritise countryside communities when upgrading the broadband system, while the mobile phone network must be improved.

The government aims to ensure every home in the UK can get 2Mbps broadband by 2012.

We have the threat of ghettoisation of the countryside - where only rich people can live
Tim Bonner, Countryside Alliance

It also plans to impose a 50p duty on all fixed phone lines to pay for improvements needed to ensure rural areas are not left behind when the next generation of higher speed broadband is introduced.

Dr Burgess said breaking the "cycle of low aspirations" through schools and universities was essential.

"Failure to act will put the future viability of our rural communities at risk," he added.

However, Tim Bonner, of rural pressure group the Countryside Alliance, said communities must also play their part.

"There's still a culture in local government and, we have to admit in many communities, which is against any development," he said.

Mr Bonner said that allowing "small-scale sustainable development" would protect services such as post offices, shops and doctors surgeries in villages.


"There need to be homes and opportunities for jobs.

"If we don't address these problems, we have the threat of ghettoisation of the countryside, where only rich people can live there. That would be a desperately sad thing."

A Downing Street spokesman said rural communities played "an important part in British life" and that ministers would look carefully at the points raised.

"We will continue to work with the Commission for Rural Communities to ensure we do all we can to understand and address the needs of those living in rural areas, especially those of the younger generation who are so crucial to building Britain's future," he added.

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