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A recent survey conducted by the Women’s Institute found that in the final decade of the 20th Century, more than a thousand village shops had closed down, and most rural communities lay within ten miles of a supermarket. 1 This discovery has become just one of a number of eventualities that have arisen in over the past 30 years, since the arrival of a retail revolution experienced by the UK during the 1970s. A key factor in this is the fact that the population as a whole have become more mobile.
At the end of 2000, there were over 24 million cars registered in the UK, double that registered in 1975.
Over 70 per cent of British households had regular use of a car in 1998-2000, and ownership was well spread amongst different sectors of the population. The number of households with the use of one car has remained stable over recent years at about 45 per cent, but the proportion with the use of two or more has risen to 28 per cent, almost doubling from 1981 to 2000.
2 These figures indicate the reasoning behind rural service decline in the UK, and likewise, in many countries across the developed world.
A poll conducted in 2002, showed that the UK are the third lowest percentage owners of vehicles in Europe, but the highest users of their vehicles, by those that own them. This increased mobility has resulted people travelling further to their place of work, usually in the towns or cities, but also ability to buy their goods in these places at larger shopping outlets, such as supermarkets not found in rural areas, where there are lower prices and the benefits of economies of scale.
This reduces the need for daily shopping in their local shops where they live.
The unfortunate situation they are left in is that their reluctance to use the local shops provided in their area, in favour of the big supermarkets, such as Tescos, which is the reason for rural service decline. This has come to light in South Oxfordshire, where now, 43 per cent do not have a village shop, 74 per cent do not have a daily bus service and 51 per cent do not have a Post Office. The once thriving post-war villages have been turned into dormitory settlements, where people no longer choose to work close to where they live through lack of transport, and no longer have the need for convenience shopping.
So, they may still wish for the ideal of a quaint rural lifestyle, but no longer need the services which it once provided to its previous inhabitants. A Rural Action Plan has been therefore set up by the Council in 1999, as a response to the situation which had occurred in the county. They proposed several measures to counteract the rural declination. Small firms were encouraged to locate in rural districts, and several forms of support for shops were introduced. These included a rate relief for shops, and support through a village scheme.
Business advice was given to shopkeepers, and a resistance to housing developers was formed to preserve their communities. Also, financial support was set up for bus services under a ‘Rural Transport Partnership Scheme’. This has helped to remedy the decline in villages in Oxfordshire, but not contain the problem. A survey had shown that Oxfordshire grew between 1961 and 1971 by 32 per cent, but after the revolution in the 1970s, between 1971 and 1981, this had slowed dramatically to 2 per cent, but managed to pick itself up between 1981 and 1991.
Counterurbanisation was uneven; it became concentrated in Thame, Henley, and Wallingford. Thame had grown but a huge figure of 132 per cent between 1961 and 1991, although a quarter of rural settlements lost population in this period. Although some grew in this time, many declined because four main factors. Poor accessibility to many areas meant that larger towns had a greater advantage over these places. Ipsden, in the Chilterns, has only single-track roads, and no daily bus service.
This town was also an example of a ‘closed village’, which was another problem; this is where a settlement is dominated by a single landowner and prevents development or change in the area. Also settlement growth is typically in relation to size. Larger villages tend to grow faster, as they have a faster response to planning priorities. Also, planning constraints in the county, with areas of green belt around Oxford discourages growth, and this too leads to prevention of urban sprawl and developments outside the city itself.
Areas such as Nuneham Courtenay in the Chilterns were declared areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and growth was constrained leading to a rural decline of services. The need for new development meant that these places lost out, and planning permission was given to areas with more developments already occurring. The combination of these factors has resulted in depopulation and stagnation in some villages, with rapid growth in others. Ipsden stagnated because of poor accessibility, but Nuneham Courtenay’s decline was because its designation as an AONB.
These declines seen in the county were also due to a final factor though. The relatively affluent inhabitants in many settlements were unsympathetic towards these changes. NIMBYism – the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ approach halted further developments. There opinions centred on the existing villages, and did not welcome these new changes. These may have been just some of the reasons why services have declined in rural areas in the past 30 years. Q. With reference to examples, discuss the issues raised by this decline in rural services. (25)
A White Paper on rural England published in 1995, recognised the problems in the countryside, especially the loss of services, the lack of services and jobs, and the lack of affordable housing. The Rural Challenge has taken grants to form effective schemes, whereby they could tackle specific problems. In total 23 schemes were set up, each offering up to i??1 million over three years. Money was also spent on supporting local initiatives for sustainable development. The Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) gave money towards renovation of villages across the country.
Villages tend to be central places, typically consisting of low-order goods such as milk and bread. And people are only prepared to travel short distances for this minor range of goods, which are on much greater offer in larger settlements. An example of rural social change and service decline was that of Clyde in north Norfolk. A decline in the number of agriculture jobs, increase in the rural middle class, and greater mobility with an increase in car ownership, improved infrastructure, and rural isolation consequently resulted in a decrease in the rural services in Clyde.
Importances of economies of scale in retailing have led to dominance of supermarkets in the last 30 years. 3 This has resulted in pressure being laid upon independent retailers, who are unable to compete with the national multiples such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s. As a result thousands have closed. A growth in car ownership, which is higher in rural areas than urban areas has given rural dwellers access to superstores located on the edge of major towns, without having to live near to them. These trends have supported the closure of many rural shops.
In Norfolk in 1997, 41 per cent of villages were without any kind of shop. Only settlements of more than 1000 inhabitants had a Post Office and shop. As car ownership grew, bus service demand decreased drastically, in Norfolk, 84 per cent of villages now have no daily bus service, and 25 per cent have no service whatsoever. Given that few of the older socio-economic groups owned cars, they faced a severe impact if they did not have access to road transport due to the distance needed to travel for simple services such as health care services and retail.
In the 1960s, a majority of villages had primary schools, but as discussed earlier only 51 per cent of villages had primary schools in a recent survey in South Oxfordshire. Small schools became expensive to run, and offered only a restricted curriculum, therefore putting the pupils at a social disadvantage. Although, against this, schools were the hub for rural communities and with their closure, rural decline was only brought on more quickly. Also, with the increase in affluence over the last 30 years, with an increase in the amount of disposal income as well, people were more likely to buy second, or holiday homes in many rural areas.
This created a surplus of housing as a result of depopulation, and an increase in vehicle ownership, as already considered. Second homeowners favour property around the coast; this is why Devon and Norfolk have suffered rural decline, as they have many second homeowners, which occupy their homes at weekends only, and contribute little to the support of local services, as they are not there most of the time. They are also unlikely to sell their homes, preferring to rent, and therefore inflate the rural housing market.
Thus, making it difficult for young people to buy their first homes, and climb onto the housing ladder. National economic changes have raised several important issues. Should rural services be given Government support? Should some housing in rural areas be reserved for local people? And, have influxes of communities and second homeowners had an adverse affect on rural communities? The issues raised in this discussion have been attempted to be counteracted. Key settlement policies have been introduced to kerb depopulation and sustain rural services.
These implementations mean that rural communities must have a selection of adequate shops, public transport, a primary school, and community facilities such as a village hall and public house. These policies have an effect on rural settlement hierarchy. They raise the status of these settlements, and accelerate decline in others. Although, inevitably these policies are not popular in the places not designated settlements of improved services, it has helped to balance the disadvantages that have plagued many rural areas over the pat 30 years.
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