The long-term future of the rural West Midlands is in jeopardy because so many young people are being priced out of living in the countryside, the Government has been warned.
The alert comes from Dr Stuart Burgess, the Government’s Rural Advocate, based on evidence he has gathered from communities in all parts of England.
In the report, which was delivered directly to the Prime Minister this week, Dr Burgess outlined the problems young people are having in rural areas trying to find homes, jobs and support.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post he said: “The rural population is ageing significantly and quickly and if we don’t address that by focusing on our young people then we will see the consequences in future.
“We must provide the building blocks so that younger people can afford to live in the countryside to start off with and that is what I hope my report will outline the start of today. Wherever I go, I hear deep concerns ? that challenges with housing, work, transport, training and social exclusion are preventing young people from living in the countryside.
‘‘Without young people to provide a work force, rural economies are unable to fulfil their full potential and rural communities can go into a decline.”
Dr Burgess explained that the West Midlands is facing many of the same problems as the rest of England but that housing, broadband and transport were the three main areas of concern in the region.
He said: “Housing is the major, number one rural issue today, and the costs in many parts of the Midlands are just prohibitive for young people starting out in life.
“I do not see why every new rural development could not include at least a dozen affordable homes because at the moment places in parts of Warwickshire in particular are well out of range for young people.
“But it is not just housing alone, there are a lot of related factors which have to be looked at together if we are going to solve this problem.
“Broadband and mobile coverage is another area and this is very patchy across the Midlands.
“I would like to see the mobile phone providers look into this issue and work out a way that your phone could automatically find the best network in each just as it does when you go abroad.
“Transport is also a problem for young people, especially late at night and especially in places like Shropshire and Worcestershire where it can be pretty awful.
“Obviously that is a big problem to sort out and we would need a lot of help from local councils to sort that out.
“My clear message is that challenges for rural young people need addressing positively and urgently and that failure to act will put the future viability of our rural communities at risk.
“It is essential to break the cycle of low aspirations and, instead, inspire young people to fulfil their potential and play an active role in our society.
“ My personal commitment is to seek ways of increasing the engagement of rural young people with these issues which so clearly affect their futures and find ways of harnessing their enthusiasm and creativity to find imaginative new solutions which will benefit us all.”
* Housing:Statistically, social housing accounts for only 13 per cent of the housing stock in rural areas, compared with 22 per cent in urban places.
* By contrast, analysis shows that between 2006 and 2031 the demand for new rural housing will grow by 35 per cent.
* Tanworth-in-Arden, and Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire were singled out as areas bad for affordable housing.
* Employment: Only 80 of England’s 573 Job Centre Plus outlets are in market towns and only 23 in rural areas. Yet in June 2009, 40 per cent of rural 16-24-year-olds were unemployed (107,000) or economically inactive (267,000).
* Transport: Inadequate public transport makes rural young people more dependent on private travel, limits job, training and leisure choices and increases isolation.
* Communications: While 60 per cent of urban areas can receive cable-based broadband, the figure slumps to 1.5 per cent for villages and hamlets; and many rural areas suffer patchy mobile phone coverage.