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Everyday problems of country folk

I recently found myself watching a TV programme about the bishop of Truro. The last time I watched a religious programme was many years ago when Songs of Praise came from my home town so I wasn’t expecting to stay tuned for long. But the programme provided an excellent contrast to a report published earlier that day by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

It seems the good bishop is unable to devote as much time as he would like to religion. With his diocese covering some of the most attractive countryside in the UK, property prices and the cost of living have been rising significantly above the rate of inflation.

As a consequence, local people are unable to stay in the area. This is a problem for the bishop who is having difficulty recruiting a priest for one of his churches. And it’s not just the church that’s in trouble. The vet has put his business up for sale and can’t find a buyer and the school can’t recruit staff.

And things are getting worse. The differential between local wages and house prices is now such that people in good jobs are being put off moving to the area.

Earlier that day, the CPRE had published a report calling for the proportion of new homes built on brownfield land to be increased from the present 60% to 85%.

It argues that planning policy has for the past six years prioritised development on brownfield land and this has transformed the vitality and prospects of many of the UK’s towns and cities. So it suggests even more building on brownfield land.

The CPRE is right and recent developments in towns and cities have revitalised those areas in a way few thought possible.

Yet readers of Mortgage Strategy will also be aware of the stagnation in prices of many city centre developments as supply starts to exceed demand. And although the CPRE notes that 60,000 new homes could be built on brownfield land in London, these will be of little use to the teachers, vets and vicars needed in Cornwall.

Apparently, releasing less than 1% of the rural land in the UK for housing would increase the land available for housing by more than 10%. And of course, that land would be in rural areas and help to ease the housing affordability crisis that is giving the bishop such a headache. If the economic and social viability of rural England is to be protected, a little greenfield development could go a long way.

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