Thousands seeking 'rural idyll'

THOUSANDS of people moved from towns and cities in seek of a “rural idyll” in the countryside last year - pushing house prices up and placing strain on stretched rural services.

THOUSANDS of people moved from towns and cities in seek of a “rural idyll” in the countryside last year - pushing house prices up and placing strain on stretched rural services.

The concerns were voiced in the 2006 State of the Countryside Report, released by the Commission for Rural Communities yesterday.

According to the report, more than 105,000 people migrated from the urban sprawls to the countryside in 2005, prompting rural house prices rises to again outstrip those in towns and cities.

But the report also warns that the number of low-income households is growing while key rural services are declining, wage gaps increasing and stress levels among farmers are rising significantly.

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Launching the report, Dr Stuart Burgess, the Prime Minister's Rural Advocate, said: “We see the impacts across rural England, most critically in the housing market where house prices are increasingly being driven way beyond the reach of many locals, particularly young people and those on low incomes.

“At the same time, within our hamlets, villages and rural towns, the numbers of key services such as petrol stations continue to decline and the future of the rural post office network remains uncertain.”

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Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the charity and pressure group Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “This important report exposes some very worrying social, economic and environmental trends for the future of our countryside.

“If huge numbers of people continue to flow out of our larger towns and cities in pursuit of the rural idyll, the countryside will become less and less idyllic and more and more suburban - whilst our cities are further damaged by desertion.”

Responding to the report, Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural campaign charity Suffolk ACRE, said: “The problem is that we have a constrained market in rural areas, primarily shaped by the planning system.

“Our view is that the Government needs to look at the existing planning framework - we need one for rural areas.”

He added: “It (migration) could put a strain on services, but I wouldn't view it all negatively - a lot of people who move want to contribute to the community and support rural facilities.

“It's not all bad, but we need to safeguard those people in the communities already there and who want to stay there.

“If we continue to constrain the market to such a degree that it pushes prices up then those who can afford it will move in and those who want to stay locally but maybe can't afford it will be pushed out.”

Peter Misselbrook, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Association of Estate Agents, said: “We are seeing price rises in rural areas, particularly in Suffolk, being fairly strong at the moment.

“Ipswich is probably slightly over-supplied in terms of property to rent and buy and that is making a difference.

“I think people now are much more aware of their environment and want a sense of community around them.”

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