‘My people will abide in peaceful habitation in secure dwellings…’. 1
To renew our land, and rework the countryside, we need thriving villages and small towns: at their best, inclusive places with schools, shops, a post office, ideally a health centre-cum-neighbourhood hub and, of course, a pub. Most of all we need affordable, secure homes for those on low and middle incomes who underpin communities. Think of health and social care staff, shop assistants, those creating local food networks, land managers and farm hands – in greater demand to replace departing EU workers – and teachers, for a start. To achieve all this, as Scotland and Wales demonstrate, we need above all a functioning planning system at the heart of local democracy to assess and deliver community needs – none more important than affordable housing – and meet aspirations.
Behind the enduring images of timeless villages with period homes around manicured village greens – and of more remote spots offering solitude and spectacular scenery by the mountains and the sea – lies a hidden crisis. Rural Britain has, in large part, become the preserve of a moneyed elite, abandoning larger cities – an exodus intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic – while younger people, born in the countryside, are travelling in the opposite direction, often reluctantly, because they can’t find affordable homes.
This is economically illogical. It represents a failure by successive governments to truly value the foundational ‘worth’ of people to communities in a country – deregulating England, in this case – more attuned to asset wealth and perceptions of status, than to strengthening the base on which to build houses, communities and a good rural society – in short, valuing the low-paid people, in jobs we take for granted, who kept the country running during a year and more of a pandemic.
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