Can you live in rural Suffolk without access to your own car in 21st century?
- Credit: Archant
The news that some communities in north Suffolk are to lose their county council-subsidised bus services will cause problems for very small number of people.
Most people living in these villages will hear the news, shrug their shoulders and say ‘what a shame’. But their lives will be unaffected because they have never used these buses – and cannot imagine themselves doing so.
Because the fact is many smaller Suffolk villages are not really “communities” in their own right any more – they are groups of houses owned by commuters who fancy living in the countryside but have to use their cars to do everything.
They don’t worry about the fact there is no shop in the village. They do their shopping at Tesco or Asda once a week and top up at smaller shops in their lunch hour.
They’re happy to drive to the theatre or cinema (although they might moan about the cost of parking) and the lack of a village pub or school isn’t a great hardship for them.
The number of people living in these villages who do not have access to their own car is falling all the time – and is likely to continue to drop as the price of rural property increases all the time.
Decisions like that to cut the subsidy to services in north Suffolk may hasten that, but it is only a tiny turn of the ratchet – and I’m not convinced that it’s any more significant than many other factors over the years.
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I was born in one of the smallest villages in Suffolk, Eastbridge near Leiston. I left that village when I was six and the family moved to the metropolis of Saxmundham. I’ve now lived in Ipswich for more than 30 years.
There’s no way I would want to go back to living in a small village any more. I love visiting the Suffolk coast, especially the area near Eastbridge and Minsmere. But live there? No thanks.
Because whatever it says, Suffolk County Council is going to find it increasingly difficult to support “community” functions in small villages – even though these villages overwhelmingly vote to support the Conservatives who now have a stranglehold on power in Endeavour House.
Ironically the villages most seriously affected by the latest cuts are actually represented in Endeavour House by the Green Party’s Andrew Stringer – but his view is very much in a minority at the county council.
I’m not sure that the idea of replacing rural bus services with more community transport is really a realistic option either.
The court case from another part of the country that has raised a question mark over the organisation of community transport across England still has to be fully understood.
Frankly when cabinet member for transport James Finch tries to convince us that all will be well with community transport, he comes across like government ministers who tell us that we’re all going to be so much better off after Brexit.
You hear what they’re saying, but it’s sometimes difficult to believe that they really believe it – however much they want it to be true!
What is true is that our smallest villages are evolving just as our larger villages, market towns, and major towns are changing – and there is a limit to how much we can or should do to change that.
Small villages have been losing services all my life because of supply and demand. I remember the village shop in Eastbridge closing before we moved out in 1965.
People still live in small villages – but these days they’re solicitors, managers, or the active retired rather than the farmworkers and delivery men (and they were almost all men).
Slightly larger villages have to decide whether to accept new development that could keep local shops, schools, and community services viable – or whether they want to retain their current character and possibly face the prospect of just becoming dormitory settlements.
It is difficult to know what any politicians can do to really buck this trend. It is a long-term behavioural issue.
Attractive villages like Kersey, East Bergholt or Orford will always see their economies boosted by visitors’ spending.
But what can the likes of Stoke Ash, Hawkedon, Shelley, Cretingham (okay there is The Bell pub) or Coney Weston do to boost their local economy by attracting thousands of tourists.
And that does not mean that the smaller villages will cease to exist in the future. They will be there physically – but the idea of being a “community” of shared interests is probably lost forever.