Byline: Sara Nichol ; Brian Daniel
ACHRONIC shortage of affordable housing in rural areas is plunging traditional village life into terminal decline, according to a new report.
The National Housing Federation claims that many village shops and pubs in the North East will be forced to close down unless action is taken to address the lack of new, affordable homes.
Nationally, it is thought up to 650 country pubs and 400 village shops will shut during the next 12 months, according to a coalition of leading campaign groups.
Now, the National Housing Federation has joined forces with the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and the Rural Shops Alliance (RSA) to highlight the alarming number of shops and pubs closing down in rural areas and are calling for urgent action to be taken to halt the demise of the countryside.
Richard Dodd, North East spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance, blamed the lack of affordable housing on the intense difficulty to gain planning permission in rural Northumberland and County Durham.
He said: "Unless the countryside gets a bigger population, a balanced population, then these pubs and shops will close and will continue to do so.
"Everywhere you seem to go in the countryside now, you are not allowed to build housing. No one is allowed to build and gaining planning permission is nearly impossible without a lot of fuss. Without that permission, there just isn't the affordable housing the countryside so desperately needs.
"I hear there are plans to build 1,700 homes in Cramlington. Those homes are not going to make any difference to Cramlington but they would make a huge difference to a rural area, which is where they are needed.
"Properties in the countryside are very expensive and you generally find it is people who have recently moved to the countryside from the towns that put up the biggest opposition to building more homes.
"A lot of pubs in rural areas just can't get staff because the wages are low and people can't afford to live in the country on those wages, so they move to the towns. It's an impossible cycle that needs to be addressed."
Across Britain, the BBPA estimates 54 country pubs could close within a month if current trends continue, while the RSA forecasts 33 village shops a month could go bust.
The National Housing Federation said the mass closures reflected a declining demand in services in villages where local families - the core customer base - had been priced out of the area by an influx of wealthy commuters and second home owners.
The Federation also claimed that rural house prices tend to be well above the national average, while rural incomes tend to be well below, leaving an affordability gap that has widened rather than narrowed in the last five years.
The gentrification of the countryside and chronic shortage of affordable homes have also made it increasingly difficult for pubs and shops to find workers who can afford to live locally and survive on modest wages.
Monica Burns, the North East manager of the National Housing Federation, said: "Many of the region's villages are in real danger of losing their unique identity as pubs and shops are often the heart of these rural communities.
"Unless we build more affordable homes for local people, they will continue to be priced out of rural areas and the shops and pubs they support will vanish with them."
But the Housing and Communities Agency has provided a glimmer of hope for the struggling rural businesses, by outlining work they are planning to do to provide affordable homes.
Pat Ritchie, regional director for the HCA, said "Rural Communities have particular problems with affordability of existing houses and finding appropriate sites for new buildings.
"We are working in rural areas to develop small scale approaches to sustainable development that maintains the character of rural communities. …