NEWS: Goodbye to the village?

Second home owners have been singled out for the death of village life. Mark Rowe reports

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Nimbys remain the major stumbling block to the regeneration of the countryside, rural campaigners have warned. Prompted by a report that forecasts a bleak future for the UK’s villages, countryside groups have identified the attitudes of second home owners and those relocating to the countryside as the single most important factor in the decline of rural life. A study by the National Housing Federation (NHF), the British Beer and Pub Association and the Rural Shops Alliance, forecasts that 650 village pubs and 400 shops could close over the next 12 months.


Many reasons combine to create this state of affairs, but the Countryside Alliance says that those who pursue the rural idyll are so keen to preserve the status quo that they oppose much-needed development and innovation, particularly the construction of affordable homes. The NHF calculates that 100,000 affordable homes need to be built over the next 10 years. “Britain faces a choice between a living, working countryside and a rural retreat that is as dead as the picture on a chocolate box,” said Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance. “The legislation for affordable housing is there but the problem is the attitude of existing dwellers who want things to stay the same. Nimbyism is destroying the countryside.”

Not all communities are accepting the inevitable however. Brigham in west Cumbria, home to 1,000 people, has lost its post office, art gallery, and all three pubs in the past six years. Despite this, house prices are high – a terraced house can fetch upwards of £180,000, compared with £80,000 in nearby Workington, partly because the village is within the catchment for a good senior school in Cockermouth. “Housing in west Cumbria is traditionally cheap but sells well in Brigham,” said Peter Wilson, clerk at Brigham Parish Council. “A lot of children who go away from this village don’t come back. People here work in service industries or the building trade, and wages don’t pay for that sort of housing.”

But the community in Brigham is fighting back, campaigning for a mobile post office and an enhanced bus service, supporting 12 local organisations in the memorial hall, seeking to re-open a pub and securing a commitment for six affordable homes to be built. “The village is very active,” said Mr Wilson. “We’re doing what we can, but you can’t fight against the supermarkets and you can’t fight the fact that people don’t travel on buses.”

Opposition to affordable housing is often misplaced, according to Nick Foley of the NHF. “We’re not talking about ugly tower blocks in the Cotswolds.
The need is usually just for three or four homes which help people to keep the village school or shop going. These properties tend to be sympathetic to the environment, not blots on the landscape. People should perhaps be a bit more open-minded. At the moment it’s impossible for local people to live locally.”

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