Rural exodus leads to dozens of village schools closing

Ministers say relaxation of planning laws will boost rural communities by enabling affordable housing

An exodus of families from the countryside, priced out of village life, threatens the future of schools, pubs and shops across rural Britain.

As ministers prepare to face down a revolt from conservationists over proposals to streamline the planning system, new figures reveal that almost 60 village schools have closed in the past six years, with parents forced to move on in search of affordable housing.

Under the new Localism Bill, communities will be able to effectively grant themselves planning permission for new homes through a local referendum. Supporters believe a handful of low-cost homes could be enough to attract sufficient children to keep some schools open, while also bringing new blood to support village businesses.

Grant Shapps, the housing minister, said: "The control on this is in the hands of villagers themselves. That's much more sustainable than at the moment where a developer comes in and says 'we are concreting over your countryside'. In some places, they will want to rescue a school or post office or even sustain a GPs' surgery. The Localism Bill will allow them to do that."

But the National Trust claims ministers are allowing "financial considerations to dominate, and with this comes huge risk to our countryside". The Campaign to Protect Rural England warns that the "protection of precious countryside is going to be seriously weakened".

Greg Clark, the planning minister, yesterday offered to hold talks with the critics to discuss the wording of the draft National Planning Policy Framework, but he ruled out a U-turn. He insisted a presumption in favour of sustainable growth would take into account the impact on communities and the environment.

Figures obtained by the National Housing Federation show that 59 rural schools closed between 2005 and 2010, including six last year, despite a legal presumption against closure. David Orr, the NHF chief executive, said: "It would be tragic to think any schools are closing because of a lack of pupils, but with families and young people increasingly being priced out of the countryside, my fear is that this is a problem that will only get worse."

The village of Lanreath near Looe, Cornwall, lost its primary school in 2007 after pupil numbers fell to 11. Siobhan Rawlins, who led a campaign to save the school said the community has lost its connections between old and young. "As a community we went into mourning for at least a couple of years. It was such an important part of the community. I don't think people in cities realise just how close-knit communities are and how important amenities within that village are. It really is sad."

Mervyn Benfield, spokesman for the National Association of Small Schools, said: "There is every reason to encourage the balanced community life and services that village schools and young families have represented for decades across the social and economic spectrum."

Around 750,000 people are on waiting lists for homes in rural England alone. A study by the Halifax showed house prices in the countryside had doubled in a decade, rising faster than in towns and cities. In 2010 rural house prices were on average 6.4 times gross annual earnings. In urban areas it was 5.4 per cent.

Growth in second-home ownership has priced many local people out of the market. In south Devon and north Norfolk, almost one-10th of properties are registered as second homes.

The Localism Bill is debated in the House of Lords this week, while ministers are to be challenged to reverse a decision to scrap the Commission for Rural Communities. Stuart Burgess, the chairman of the CRC, said affordable housing was "essential for vibrant and sustainable communities" and "could be the catalyst for a living, working countryside".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
News
A girl plays on a Sony 'PS Vita' portable games console
news
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Randstad Education Cardiff: Maths Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: We are currently recruiting f...

Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher -Full Time - ...

Randstad Education Cardiff: After School Club Worker

£40 - £45 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client in the Newp...

Randstad Education Cardiff: English Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education Cardiff is...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines