Almost 400,000 fewer young people live in rural England compared with 20 years ago, a government commissioned report has revealed.

The Commission for Rural Communities State of the Countryside Report 2007 said that the loss of young people (15-29 year olds) was even more startling as it was set against a rising population generally.

Commission chairman and government rural advocate, Stuart Burgess, described it as a “real threat to the future diversity and sustainability of rural communities”.

“The rural population is both older and ageing faster than urban areas,” Dr Burgess said.

The number of older people in rural areas is increasing markedly with the net result that the average age is nearly six years higher than in urban areas.

“It suggests a divide between rural and urban areas and is putting a severe strain on the viability of rural schools, the provision of youth services, healthcare and housing,” Dr Burgess added.

Key factors effecting the movement of young people away from rural communities are a lack of affordable housing in the countryside combined with low incomes.

“Although many rural people enjoy relatively healthy and prosperous lifestyles there remain some significant ongoing inequities such as over 928,000 households with incomes of less than £16,500,” said Dr Burgess.

He added that poor services added to difficulties faced.

In 2007, there were nearly 233,000 rural people living in ‘financial services deserts’, the report stated.

These are areas without a Post Office within 1.25 miles, or a bank, building society or cashpoint within 2.5 miles, it explained.

Other findings
*Over 200% growth in the number of migrant workers in the past three years
*The average rural household spends nearly £480/week, £60/week higher than the average urban household
*Just 44% of households in sparse isolated rural areas are within easy reach of a GP

According to the report, the average rural house price in 2006 was 22.1% higher than the average house in an urban area.  Furthermore, while the number of young people in rural areas in decreasing, the number of older residents is increasing, leading some rural groups to suggest that public services face an even greater strain.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said: “The observations of this report highlight a very worrying trend in the countryside.  Young people need to be encouraged to work and live within the countryside, and this means that affordable housing must be a priority for the government.

“Rural areas should offer the same wealth of opportunity as urban areas, and the discrepancy between the two must be addressed.  Many young people want to remain within the countryside but are unable to because of the lack of affordable housing and poor business opportunities.  Both problems go hand in hand and must be dealt with before rural Britain becomes an exclusive playground for only the wealthy and the retired.”

The report has also beeb seized on by the Liberal Democrats who said its findings revealed a decade’s worth of neglect towards rural areas by the Labour Party.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Defra Secretary, Chris Huhne said: “This report shows that ten years of Labour policies have failed rural communities. Many areas have no access to essential services such as GP surgeries, banks and post offices.

“It is no surprise that young people have been leaving the countryside.  They are being forced out by the Government’s failure to provide more affordable homes, with average rural house prices now over £40,000 more than in urban areas.

“The Government must work to reverse the damage it has done and ensure our villages and market towns become sustainable communities.  That means building more affordable homes and investing in better services for local people.”

To read the full report click here