Call for new homes in Norfolk to stop rural exodus of thirty-somethings

Shan Ellis with her children Ellis Hendry (5) and Cara Hendry (8). Picture: Matthew Usher.

Shan Ellis with her children Ellis Hendry (5) and Cara Hendry (8). Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

More homes must be built to stop the drift of thirty-somethings out of Norfolk's villages, say experts.

A fall in the number of people aged 30-44 living in rural Norfolk has been linked to soaring house prices in the countryside, which have risen faster than those in urban areas – unlike wages.

The effect has been to leave many Norfolk villages with a high percentage of older residents and second homes, leading to fears for the future of rural schools, shops, pubs and other mainstays of traditional country life.

New figures from the National Housing Federation show that North Norfolk tops the list in the East of England for the area with the steepest rise in house prices over the past 10 years, coupled with the sharpest fall in the number of people aged 30-44.

According to the federation, an umbrella body for housing associations, North Norfolk house prices have virtually doubled (a 98pc rise) over the past decade while the number of people aged 30-44 has fallen by 16pc.

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Suffolk Coastal, Fenland, West Norfolk and Breckland also feature in the top 10.

Overall figures for rural East of England show a 5pc fall in people aged 30-44, compared to 0.1pc in urban areas, and an 82pc rise in rural house prices, higher than in towns and cities.

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And for every £1 increase in urban wages over the past five years, rural incomes have only risen by 75p.

Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said Norfolk had one of the highest average house price to earnings ratios in the country.

In much of the county, the cost of an average house is about 10 times average earnings, making them completely unaffordable.

Prices were pushed up by the desirability of rural Norfolk, with the north Norfolk coast in particular attracting wealthy people and high levels of second-home ownership.

Latest figures show more than half (51.2pc), of Burnham Overy's 246 properties were second homes. In Brancaster the number is 43.1pc.

As younger, local people – many earning the minimum wage – moved out, a source of labour for businesses including hotels, restaurants, and as carers for the elderly, disappeared.

'For rural communities to retain their vibrancy it's important that there's a demographic mix,' said Mr Clemo.

'If you don't have that young population you will see, over a period of time, a decline in the availability of schools which provides another barrier for young families moving in.'

Part of the solution was to provide more affordable homes, but training and job creation were also vital.

John Seymour, chairman of Blakeney Neighbourhood Housing Society, believes the provision of more homes is key to keeping younger people in north Norfolk villages.

He said: 'The real answer is that councils need to get behind building affordable housing again.

'Until, and unless, that happens we are never going to get anywhere.'

The society rents out 42 affordable homes in Blakeney and surrounding villages to those born locally.

But this year it only expects to reduce the 20-25 people on its waiting list by one.

Trevor Ivory, portfolio holder for housing with North Norfolk District Council, said the problem was not just about affordability.

Whereas the older generation had been able to buy homes in their villages when younger, their adult children were often unable to do the same because there were no homes there for sale.

'The simple fact is that we have not built enough homes in north Norfolk for decades,' said Mr Ivory.

'You can't reduce house prices when demand is outstripping supply.'

The council had a number of housing schemes under way and next month it would be discussing with house builders a package of measures aimed at easing the process.

Tim Stephens, chairman of the Norwich and District Association of Estate Agents, recognised that 'the influence of the London market' had pushed up prices in north Norfolk but he questioned whether there had been a marked increase in house prices across the county.

And he believed the fall in the numbers of younger people in rural areas could also be due to choice, with working-age people opting to live near their place of employment, to save on commuting time and fuel costs.

And his view was supported by Caroline Culot, regional property editor for Archant Anglia, publishers of the EDP, who said she treated survey results with caution and agreed with Mr Stephens that lifestyle trends were altering the pattern of buying rural properties.

'People in their 30s and 40s perhaps do not want to make the added commitment of expenditure incurred from the maintenance of country properties, however big or small,' she said.

New builds were also increasingly popular because of their energy efficiency compared to a period home, and many of these tended to be in towns which might be luring younger families away from the country.

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