Countryside communities need their own version of an urban renaissance to prevent an affordable housing crisis, Housing, Planning and Regeneration Minister Jeff Rooker said last week.
Rising house prices and low wages have blighted rural communities in recent years. Migration from the countryside has continued as people – especially the young – have found themselves unable to get onto the property ladder.
Speaking at the Rural Affairs Forum, Jeff Rooker said: “I am a city boy by birth and upbringing but a countryside lover by choice. Behind the chocolate box image, communities in market towns and villages are really struggling. We are doing a lot to provide more affordable homes for these communities but we need to do more.
“Too many young people cannot afford to live in the village of their birth. This can have a terrible knock-on effect on the stability of communities. But it's not just about houses.
“We have to reverse the policies which have led to the creation of dormitory towns and villages which are full of commuters. Providing more affordable homes needs to be underpinned by the sort of economic regeneration efforts that are starting to bear fruit in our towns and cities.”
The government expects to deliver 9,000 affordable homes in rural areas annually by 2003/04, including 3,000 in small rural settlements. To help achieve this the government has doubled the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme in small rural settlements from 800 in 2000/1 to 1,600 in 2003/4.
Rooker stressed the need for a partnership between rural people and central government. He said: “Successful regeneration is about giving people the power to set their own priorities about what their community needs. It cannot be imposed by central government if it is to succeed. Westminster, dominated by urban dwellers, should not dictate the details of the rural agenda, but show it listens to rural dwellers.
“This Rural Forum is an excellent opportunity to explore the challenges facing the countryside today. As a countryside lover and former MAFF Minister I'm under no illusions that the countryside has had a really tough time in the last few of years.
“No one benefits from a countryside that doesn't thrive. The time for a rural renaissance is long overdue.”