‘Rural life can’t function without those who underpin it’

March 13, 2013

My New Home

PIPE DREAM: A friend of mine took this picture of me when I was on holiday in Dartmoor in 2011. It would be nice to have a house in a rural area but I couldn’t afford to live there.


IDYLLIC SCENE: Looking down on Corfe Castle from the hill opposite to the National Trust property. The village is a sought after place to live.


YOUNG people who were raised in rural areas should not expect to be able to live near their parents, says the leader of the UK’s prominent conservation body.

Sir Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the National Trust, made the controversial remarks to a national newspaper this week and having lived and worked in the West Country for the past 10 years, I find it difficult to recognise the picture he is trying to portray.

In January Sir Simon clashed with Nick Boles, the planning minister, on Newsnight when he was campaigning against new housing whilst it was revealed he owned two homes – one being a £3M valued four-bedroomed house in Kensington, South London, and the other in the coastal Welsh village of Aberdyfi where he took childhood holidays.

Sir Simon said: “Somehow it is considered the right of people in the country to have their children living next door at public expense. I don’t understand it.

“Are you going to say that people who have lived in the Windrush Valley (in the Cotswolds) for 100 years have a right to go on living there? No. I’m afraid they don’t. Sorry.” (Properties along the River Windrush are reputedly selling up to £645,000.

He also told the Home Builders Federation conference in central London: “I want building to take place in the towns on the whole. I want there to be massive incentives to build in towns because it makes sense.”

People who are involved in the countryside working as conservationists, gamekeepers, foresters, farm laborers, gardeners, grooms or skilled craftsmen liked thatchers and basket makers do it for the love of doing those trades, not necessarily the money. You only have to visit the country shows locally to register that reality.

I can recall stories I heard in Somerset of individuals who worked in these industries having to buy properties in the small towns and making ten-mile round trips to commute to work. They shouldn’t be having to do this. They should be able to walk or cycle or do a short drive to their place of work.

There have been complaints locally that properties in the New Forest, east Dorset and Purbeck and parts of rural Somerset are beyond the affordability of working class and lower middle class families.

Being the chairman of the National Trust, I’m sure Sir Simon and his family regularly visits his property on the Welsh coast and his well known in Aberdyfi and supports that community, but many second homes in the West Country and other parts of the UK lie dormant for large parts of the year, and so the owners can only support the local shop, post office or pubs when they are temporarily in residence.

Businesses like rural crafts, pubs, bed and breakfasts and shops don’t necessarily generate vast amounts of income. Tourism income is variable and is hugely dependent on the weather from year to year.

So, it is important that young people are encouraged to settle in their villages of their birth through affordable housing schemes as it is so important that community life flourishes. Community assets in small towns and villages like the ones I listed can be only be supported if the community is there in place to do that, not if there is on one in residence. Living in an area of landscape value or high designation is a privilege and those who can afford to live there should act accordingly with responsibility.

I would also remind Sir Simon of a piece I wrote for the Western Gazette in December 2010 about the cost of living. Figures released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggested that it cost 20 per cent more to make ends meet in a village like Sturminster Marshall than it would to live in Poole.  For a single person at that time, it would have cost £8.89 on an hourly rate to break even – 50 per cent above the minimum wage. Two and a half years on, it won’t have changed that much.

If the artisans of the rural economy can’t afford to live within their communities and provide the infrastructure, then the idyll that outsiders invest into can’t be maintained

The Campaign to Protect Rural England says National Park and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty areas in Dorset, Somerset and west Hampshire can be protected with affordable development that compliments the landscape.

A spokesman said: “We believe that good quality housing, and especially affordable housing, is vital both to the rural economy and to the quality of life of those who want to live in the countryside. We are determinedly anti-sprawl.

“We don’t like treasured landscapes being desecrated so that landowners can put up a few executive houses and then retire to sunny climes.

“We don’t believe house-builders who say they have to build on fields when they are sitting on enormous banks of land, which they are not developing because in this economic climate the profit margins are unacceptable to them.”

We need to be aware it is in everyone’s interests that affordable housing is provided for the reasons I have listed in the post and I hope that anyone who is in a position of influence reading this understands these arguments.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

steve watts March 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Interesting article matthew, thank you. Yes I do feel that there should be more affordable housing in rural and semi rural areas. It is sad that nowadays the minimum wage is nowhere near enough to live on. People work very hard in rural communities and have very little money.


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