The priorities of rural areas?

The basic numbers tell the tale, 16% of the English population live in London. Yet 17% of the English population live in rural areas. Yet when it comes to transport, “Local authorities in rural areas have far less funding available to them to support bus services. In 2017/18 expenditure in predominantly rural areas was £6.72 per resident to subsidise services, compared with £31.93 in predominantly urban areas. Expenditure to cover concessionary bus fares was £13.48 (rural) and £25.54 (urban) respectively.”

Now I don’t know about you but I was always told that rural bus services and similar couldn’t be run because there weren’t enough people. Urban bus services survived because of the sheer number of people who wanted to travel. Urban bus services benefited from a ‘critical mass’ that rural services would never equal.

But frankly urban bus services survive because governments over the years have hosed them with money to support their urban electorate.

Then there’s housing. ‘Nice houses in the country’ have always cost more. Follow the A592 into the Lake District from the south and play ‘spot the multi-million pound houses. The problem is that two bedroom ground floor flats are £185,000 if you can find them. Whilst to rent two bedroom flats are £650 per month if they’re not out on Airbnb. Try renting in summer. In Barrow (where a lot of people live who work in Windermere, a two bedroomed terraced house is under £500 a month and you can buy a modernised three bedroomed terraced house for the £185,000.

Because of the drive for ‘working from home,’ or at least ‘flexible working’ prices for houses outside major cities have risen by 10.8% over the pandemic, as opposed to a rise of 8.9% in the major cities.

In a county like Cumbria, a lot of houses in rural villages are now second homes, or are lived in by people who have retired to the county. As it is, Cumbria is a largely self-contained functional economic area, with 96 per cent of Cumbria’s residents working in Cumbria, and with 94 per cent of all jobs based in Cumbria filled by Cumbrian residents. The problem is that the residents are being forced to the periphery of the county where house prices are lower because it isn’t as pretty.
Before the pandemic I was talking to one big hotelier, he used almost entirely British staff and spent (from memory,) over £100,000 a year busing them in from the periphery of the county using hired coaches. It was costing so much he was looking at plans to build accommodation to house over a hundred staff ‘on-site’ in their own rooms. This was because the cost of borrowing the money to build to Lake District National Park standards was still lower than the cost of transporting staff. Obviously there were no staff to be had locally because you cannot afford to work in hospitality and live in the area.

I was talking to a chap who used to manage holiday cottages for an agency. They didn’t own the cottages, but managed them for the owners. My contact was the one who got phoned at 2am to be told that the microwave wasn’t working. When it came to cleaning the cottages between guests, there was a set sum in the budget. Initially there had been the hope that he could get local people to come in and do it, but there weren’t any local people available. He ended up with the mobile phone number for a lady from a rundown industrial town twenty miles away. He’d phone and give the lady the addresses of the house that wanted cleaning. She knew the rate per house. He turned up to meet them on one occasion, and out of a rather small car stepped the lady, her sister, her daughter, and two toddlers. The houses were cleaned and left immaculate and he would get a hand written invoice at the end of the week. He made a point of paying promptly. He knew they needed the money and he didn’t want to lose a team so competent.

I was talking to another chap who worked as an agricultural contractor. Thirty years ago farms would have employed local lads, but given the drop in food prices and the increase in house prices, you struggle to find local lad. Farmers just hire contractors instead. This particular chap was working with a round baler. He set off at some ridiculously early hour to get to the first farm. He then sat for an hour waiting for the hay to dry out ready to bale, watching the traffic on the road by the field grow steadily heavier.

When he finished working on that farm his next job was at another farm about fifteen miles down the road. After an hour winding his way through traffic he finally got there and managed to get that baled before the weather broke.

But for local people stuck in traffic I think it takes a lot to beat a knacker wagon driver I know. His round, collecting animals that have died on farm and smallholdings, takes him throughout most of Cumbria. He inches his way through the snow, makes his careful way through floodwater, and tries to avoid tourists, all on roads little wider that his wagon.

One day at the height of summer he ended up coming into Ambleside in the early afternoon. Because of the one way system, coming in from Coniston, he had to go the long way through Ambleside. Unfortunately the village is snarled solid and he’s stuck in traffic. It was a hot day and you can imagine the smell.

After half an hour of going nowhere a policeman approached his wagon and taps on the window. The knacker wound the window down and the policeman just said, “You, we are getting out of the village as soon as we can.”
To be fair to the police they cleared a one way street so he could go up it the wrong way. Once through the street he could turn right and they’d make sure the traffic was flowing well enough to get him out into open country.

Gratefully he made his way up the street to be met by a tourist travelling in the opposite direction. She got out of her car, berated him, swore at him, demanded he back and when he didn’t she squeezed her car past him, into the waiting arms of a policeman who’d come up to see what was going on. Apparently she’d ignored the road closed sign his colleague had put at the top of the street and as the knacker drove off, a stern faced policeman was taking down her details.

But yes, the way things are going, we’re going to struggle to have village communities and local culture. We already have communities in the Lake District where nobody lives any more. Even in places like Keswick nearly half the properties are holiday lets or second homes. Then there’s the explosion in Airbnb.

If you’re not careful you’ll end having a holiday home in the same village as your next door neighbours.

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts

Available from Amazon as paperback or kindle

and from everybody else as an ebook at

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

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17 thoughts on “The priorities of rural areas?

  1. Jane Sturgeon September 22, 2021 at 5:39 am Reply

    Yes, Jim, money and the quest for ‘more’ driving common sense out. Never have we needed community more and an understanding of what that is. ❤

    • jwebster2 September 22, 2021 at 5:49 am Reply

      And the problem is, we have people who are in some way ‘fleeing’ non-communities, perhaps looking for community, but unintentionally destroying it as they arrive. 😦

      • Jane Sturgeon September 22, 2021 at 6:09 am

        Yes, unfortunately…communities grow organically. 🙂

      • jwebster2 September 22, 2021 at 6:18 am

        very much so, they take work to establish and more work to keep them healthy

      • Jane Sturgeon September 22, 2021 at 6:28 am

        You have seen the cycles in your beautiful area, Jim. ❤

      • jwebster2 September 22, 2021 at 6:39 am

        But I’ve also seen people ‘fighting back’. In one village they leave copies of the village newsletter at the holiday cottages and make an effort to invite the people who own them to village events, from litter picks through to bonfires. They’ve seen a genuine response and slowly slowly it’s working.
        But their village still has enough people living in it to form the cadre around which the community can be built

      • Jane Sturgeon September 22, 2021 at 6:42 am

        I like the feel of that, Jim and it’s a natural way of letting folk know what is going on. Time…it will take much time, but that’s a kind way moving forward. I like to think there’s a genuine desire in most folk to get involved, they just need a gentle nudge and direction to follow. 🙂

      • jwebster2 September 22, 2021 at 6:52 am

        yes, people said it made them feel less like strangers and outsiders.

  2. Stevie Turner September 22, 2021 at 9:02 am Reply

    I know it’s the same in Cornwall and locals there have been priced out of the area. During the pandemic our GP surgery was inundated with new patients from London who had rented properties or moved in with relatives even though they weren’t supposed to travel. Many houses here are second homes too, and unfortunately there are lots of new estates springing up featuring pygmy Lego homes. It’s horrible.

    • jwebster2 September 22, 2021 at 9:38 am Reply

      Yes, for some rural areas the last couple of years have been an accelerating descent into nightmare 😦

  3. Sue September 22, 2021 at 10:46 am Reply

    You’re not alone in this. I live on a Scottish island. Our communities are decimated, due to the property boomers from the oil areas and England. Our villages are running at 50% or higher holiday lets and holiday homes. 98% are owned by absentee landlords. We are in a housing crisis because of property prices being hiked so high that locals can’t afford to buy, and absentee landlords want to make from tourists , not long term lets. A bedsit recently sold for over £130k, a 2 bed house will cost upwards of £300k. Take a ferry to the mainland and the a bedsit sells for £20k , a 2 bed ‘nice’ house maybe as much as £120k. We can’t hope to survive as a community.
    Then there is the traffic issue, Island, rural, narrow, twisty roads, and we struggle to get to work to check our animals, because motorhomes block the roads, tourists drive at 20 mikes an hour, large tour company coaches hkg both lanes, so no-one can pass, either direction. Our roads are constantly in a state of disrepair, because of the amount of tourist traffic, not one of whom pays to it’s upkeep. Holiday lets don’t pay Council Tax, so no income there for infrastructure.
    These are only a few of the problems faced by an island community who, receive an unwelcome 150 tourists per head of population, over a 10-12 week season. In perspective Barbados , which we all think of as a major tourist destination, receives 3 tourists per head of population over a year.
    Something must be done, otherwise rural and island populations will not be able to survive

    • jwebster2 September 22, 2021 at 11:28 am Reply

      Yes there are a lot of places suffering. The Lake District is a stark outlier because it gets 20 million tourists a year and has 40,000 inhabitants!
      But at least in the Lake District it’s obvious and people ask questions.
      My heart bleeds for places like the Islands where the isn’t the infra-structure and community can just fade and die without the world noticing 😦
      Out of interest, which islands?

  4. Dan Holdsworth September 22, 2021 at 11:40 am Reply

    One partial cure for the transport problems might be to impose a Traffic Regulation Order on the entire National Park such that any vehicle not registered to a property in the National Park gets charged a tenner a day just to be on the roads; increase the toll as needed.

    Add in some sort of alternative transport such as narrow gauge railways (using electricity made in some suitable “green” manner; waterwheels on streams etc) for the tourists and you retain the tourism and lose the cars.

    A final part of this would be to ring-fence the tolls so that they can only be used inside the National Park and then only on infrastructure.

    • jwebster2 September 22, 2021 at 12:01 pm Reply

      It is interesting your solution. I know that I was at a meeting where they had groups of locals ‘brainstorm’ an idea for their patch. One that came forward was to have the railway from Lancaster up the west coast of Cumbria ungraded, but also to connect it to the Haverthwaite steam railway so people could be brought to the foot of WIndermere and have regular ferries take them up into the centre of the lakes.
      The problem with more railways is that you’d fight for years to get planning permission, or even access from major institutional landowners. So part of the process would probably be getting the plan through the AGM of the National Trust (just as an example)
      But yes, a lot of the ideas you’ve suggested have been suggested in the county, and turned down by national.
      But 20 million tourists a year into the area is beyond a joke

  5. M T McGuire September 25, 2021 at 9:48 am Reply

    Frankly, I feel your pain. I grew up in Sussex and experienced the process of gentrification first hand. Many of people who grew up in the village I come from couldn’t afford to live anywhere near there now.

    McOther and I went to Norfolk recently for a day out. We had lunch in a very picturesque village and then discovered that a two bedroom converted shop there cost the same as a rambling seven bedroom Georgian place in Bury St Edmunds. The village was full of shops but apart from a fishmonger, butcher, deli and wine shop they were selling expensive clothes and overpriced beige pottery – for those that do telly, think Harry Enfield’s ‘I saw you coming’. It was also, as McOther noted, ‘full of people I don’t like’ clearly none of them local. I have a very tasteless t-shirt, left over from my rabbelasian youth, advertising ‘Hitler’s European Tour’. It features a grainy pop art style picture of Hitler on the front and on the back a list of the invaded countries (plus dates) until it gets to 1940 and Britain, which is scored through in red and marked ‘cancelled’. Even I, a massive fan of punk, graffiti art and no end of other subversive things that horrify the normals, have never had the balls to wear it. However, seeing the smug, self-satisfied, quinoa eating visitors to this town made me want to. It was abundantly clear that the actual locals lived in the far less picturesque towns like Fakenham, Swaffham and Brandon. Everyone had chelsea tractor and a boutique dog – something expensive and on trend – except us.

    All the people who can no longer afford to live in the west end and commute out to Oxfordshire are now living in the north east of London and commuting out to places like Orford and Wells Next-the-Sea.

    On the subject of buses, a lot of it is about acquisition and the growth of mega companies. Way back in the days of my youth, a few years before Christ was born, I worked for a coach company which was bought out by one of the really big operators. Our routes were making money but we were a smaller operator – well we were a group but each part operated as a separate entity so regional variations in fares, subsidies, overheads etc didn’t affect the whole. The point was, as a constellation of smaller operators, our companies only had to make 10% or 15% operating profit to not only break even but do well. The bunch that took us over were a big plc, with shareholders to pay, higher overheads etc. They had to make an operating profit of 30% to break even and on many of our routes they couldn’t. That’s why a lot of the time, a big company comes along, buys a bus route and immediately scraps it. Usually, small operators run by the staff who have been made redundant on merger will pop up to replace the bought companies and their firms will, in turn, be bought later on.

    A few lets here and there are great but when you get whole villages that are ghost towns during the week there’s no-one to use the infrastructure and the smallest, nimblest business attempting to serve it can’t make a profit so it all goes; shops, pub, bus services, everything. I totally understand why people want to move out of towns, but I also understand why those people in Wales started firebombing holiday cottages.

    • jwebster2 September 26, 2021 at 1:35 pm Reply

      yes to all of it, and it’s an interesting comment on the nature of bus companies

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