The Chron looks at why countryside communities are changing and if rural living is too dear

Sulgrave Village.
Sulgrave Village.

FRESH air, rolling green fields and quaint village shops, the appeal of the rural idyll is not hard to see; but it is difficult to afford.

This month The Countryside Alliance released a report claiming there was a critical shortfall in the amount of affordable rural housing in the county, warning this could lead to the break-up of communities and a loss of services.

It is a concern that is echoed in villages around Northamptonshire.

“House prices since we first moved here have changed enormously,” says Jane Thomas, who has lived in Boddington for 15 years, with her husband and 13-year-old daughter.

“Fifteen years ago we paid £65,000 for our house - that’s a two bedroom semi with a large garage, but now it costs £160,000 for an ex-council house terrace here.

“Our house was easily affordable on our wages when we first moved here but there is no way we would afford to buy in the village now. The wages just haven’t kept up with the house prices. We have extended since we bought the house and it has put the value up considerably.”

And along with the change in house prices has come a change in the community.

“I don’t think you get the same mix of people that you used to get in the village,” says Jane.

“It’s much more affluent. I knew a lot of youngsters that I have watched growing up and now can’t afford to live in the village where they were born or raised.

“They can’t get onto the housing ladder because there is no affordable housing. I think my daughter will definitely move away when she is older.

“When she goes to stay with my family in Wales they have such a great bus infrastructure that she can go unaccompanied into town, but here it is very hard for young people to have a social life.

“They end up hanging around in parks there isn’t anything for them to do and they need that sense of independence.”

Lizzy Williams, aged 37, who lives with her partner and 10 year-old son in Lower Thorpe, added: “I have always lived in a rural community but you can definitely see it becoming more expensive. My partner is an automotive designer so we can afford to live here.

“For young people it is a massive issue. You are going to end up with more and more young people in the poverty trap as the countryside becomes a place for the elite, and that effects communities.

“You never see empty housing in this area.”

But housing costs are not the only thing putting pressure on rural communities.

“Fuel is really expensive and there are not so many jobs, so people have to travel for shops and work,” says Sally Hanraham, development and education manager for Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Northamptonshire.

“The lack of buses puts a lot of pressure on people living in villages and there are people who don’t have transport or a village shop, as a lot of village shops and post offices have closed down.

“Then there are also school issues, lots of rural schools are closing down, so people are having to commute to schools in the town.

“It is definitely more difficult for families who have been brought up in the countryside to go back to where they came from.

“Despite this some still continue to have strong communities.”

Despite the Countryside Alliance report stating that South Northamptonshire Council was only meeting eight per cent of its need for rural housing, the authority has claimed the information is out of date and that it has made affordable rural homes a priority.

Dama James, a spokesman for the authority, which covers 72 villages and hamlets, said: “We are committed to providing affordable housing for local residents and are currently running a five-year rolling programme of housing need surveys which aim to assess the local housing need in every parish in our district.

“So far, 54 surveys have been carried out and a need for 643 new affordable homes has been identified, of which approximately 40 per cent, or 263, have been built.

“It is important to stress that as is the case in all areas, rural or urban, demand for housing is always higher than supply.

“We will, as a corporate priority, continue to develop new affordable homes for local people in a controlled way to ensure that growth is managed in a manner that benefits the whole community.”

The council has also implemented a policy that where 15 or more dwellings are to be built, up to 40 per cent affordable housing will be required where a need is identified.