Robert Winnett, London Telegraph, July 16, 2008
The character of England’s countryside has changed fundamentally over the past decade following an influx of immigrants which have helped rapidly push up house prices and demand for new developments, an official report has revealed.
Since 2002, the number of immigrants has almost tripled in rural areas—compared to a lower rise of 86 per cent in the country’s towns and cities.
The average home in the countryside now costs £257,600—6.8 times as much as the typical income—compared to £212,823 in urban areas. The number of second homes has doubled to about 94,000 since 2000.
The report from the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) which has analysed the “state of the countryside” over the past decade warns that the character of “large parts of England’s countryside is changing”.
It found that sharp rises in immigration and property prices have coincided with a decline in access to services for rural residents.
Another report published by a Parliamentary Committee, warns that many services are now “inadequately funded” in areas facing increases in population following immigration.
Dr Stuart Burgess, the Chairman of the CRC, said: “The character of large parts of England’s countryside is changing as a result of built development; demand for new development is significantly higher per household in rural areas than urban areas and the countryside has seen a greater number of new houses than in the urban fringe in recent years.
“The decline in services in rural areas continues to concern rural communities. Each year we have found there are fewer outlets for many services and poorer accessibility to services for people without cars.”
However, the Commission concludes that the quality of life for people living in the countryside is still higher than for their urban counterparts with residents enjoying healthier lifestyles and lower rates of crime. Educational attainment is also higher among children living in rural areas.
Almost one in five English residents now live in rural communities—9.6 million people. Most households are families with young children or pensioners.
However, the rural population continues to rise at a faster rate than in the country as a whole partly because of a “dramatic increase” in immigrants, particularly from eastern Europe. Although there are more immigrants living in urban areas the rate of increase is far higher in the countryside.
Rural areas which now have the highest proportions of immigrants include Lincolnshire and the Isles of Scilly.
A separate report published by the Parliamentary Committee for Communities and Local Government, criticises the Government for failing to properly prepare local communities for the impact of higher immigration. It also draws attention to the issue in rural areas.
Dr Phyllis Starkey, the chair of the Committee, said: “We found that public concerns about the effects of migration are not necessarily based on prejudice, but can arise from genuine anxieties about practical issues, such as the effect of migration on housing and other local services.
“Local services are unable to respond to rapid population changes and are left under-funded as a result of the current funding system. This situation is putting local public services under pressure.”
The Committee believes that Government plans for immigrants to pay a new levy to help fund public services are inadequate. It calls on ministers to set up a contingency fund to provide additional funding to certain areas.
A government report on improving affordable housing in rural areas is expected to be released within the next few days. The study, conducted by Liberal Democrat MP Matthew Taylor, is set to call for more new housing earmarked for local residents. Today’s Rural Commission report calls the issue the “dominant challenge” facing rural areas.
However, plans for new “eco-towns”—many of which are located in rural areas—have met intense local opposition.
Tom Oliver, the head of rural policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The scale of the pressures on the countryside, from large scale housing schemes and other intrusive development, are making rural England a place which needs more careful protection than ever before.”