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Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The ageing rural population
I'm sure a lot of people heard the news on the radio today about a new study from Philip Lowe and his colleagues up at Newcastle. Their figures show that 5.3 million of England's projected 5.5 million population growth until 2028 will be due to the rise in the over-60s, as the Baby Boomers finally reach pensionable age.

They will mainly be living in rural districts, with numbers of people living in the countryside aged 85 and over predicted to treble in the period. Remote rural areas in particular are expected to have a 47 per cent increase in the number of residents aged over 50 by 2028, compared with a 30 per cent projected increase nationally. Some rural districts - including West Dorset (where I've been working recently) are set to have three out of five of their residents aged over 50 by 2028.

There are some really huge issues raised by this, but none of it should be news. Researchers have been saying for along time that the challenge of a greying rural population is perhaps the biggest public services challenge that we have to face now. The major issues include the provision and design of rural housing, and commercial and public services, which should be adapted to serve less mobile users.

But also, rural areas desperately need to attract and retain more young people to maintain a balance and work in the services that an older population needs. This really impacts on rural planning and land use, as I keep banging on about. A lot of young people would stay in the countryside, if they felt there were sufficient work opportunities and a really good quality of life within reach of their salaries. But by not providing really good quality, generous affordable housing and not catering for the lifestyle expectations of a different, more mobile, more demanding generation, they will continue to flock to the cities where these aspirations can be met (at least, until they hit 40 and move back to a farmhouse with the kids...)

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