Here are some surprising statistics to start with:
Average wages for people working in rural communities are £4,655 lower than the national average
The average prices of a home in the countryside is 5.4 times the average annual earnings of someone working in the countryside
First-time buyers in rural areas account for just 27 per cent of all buyers, compared with 45 per cent in urban areas
Now, with those stats in mind, consider this: The Office of National Statistics project that the rural population will grow by a further 16% by 2028, compared with an urban growth rate of just 9%. So, the British countryside is expecting a massive influx of new residents, yet the people who currently live in rural areas are highly unlikely to get on the housing ladder given the average financial situation.
This isn't a new phenomenon either. With the movement of population from cities to the countryside the rural population has grown by 800,000 people in the last decade; twice the rate of urban areas. This has driven up house prices and is slowly pricing young families out of the communities in which they work and in which they have often been brought up.
On Thursday, the Countryside Alliance released a report which highlighted how difficult the situation is when it comes to finding affordable housing in rural Britain (click here to read the full report). A Freedom of Information request to all local authorities asked how many affordable homes were identified as needed in their latest Housing Needs Survey, and how many affordable homes they planned for 2010/2011. Of the 158 rural and semi-rural councils in England, 135 or 85 per cent responded. The delivery targets set for 2010/11 amounted to just 17,208 or 22 per cent of the identified need. This is a serious problem: a lack of affordable homes creates a vicious cycle which if not broken leads to the break-up of communities, a loss of services and results in villages that have no long-term future.
So what's the solution? The Countryside Alliance wants to see a fundamental shake up of planning and affordable housing policy if the Government is to breathe new life and prosperity into our rural communities. New planning policies could shift the growth of market towns from endless bland housing estates and instead create new neighbourhood extensions with shops and community facilities, workplaces and open spaces. The key to overcoming the affordable rural housing shortfall is working with the existing communities to identify and then encourage the areas for new housing developments and must be accompanied by flexible new planning rules to encourage village businesses.
The problem isn't insurmountable, but - as our research has shown - the current situation is dire and will only be solved by Government, housing developers and local councils working with the rural communities. Only time will tell if this can actually happen.