However, towns are in some ways the ‘missing link’ in England’s policy landscape. The current rural and urban definition, upon which most government spatial analysis is based, omits the separate consideration of small, medium and large sized towns. This has meant that statistics have not tracked social and economic trends as they impact towns. Perhaps as a result, towns have been generally overlooked from both a research and policy perspective.
This State of the countryside update seeks to address this gap by studying a range of topics covering broad themes of population, services, business health, employment and deprivation. The analysis on which the report is based comes from work undertaken by the Rural Evidence Research Centre (RERC) at Birkbeck College, University of London on behalf of CRC.
This update confirms the importance of towns in the fabric and health of rural life.
In 2009 the population living in Small Towns was 11.4 million or 22% of the England population.
Between 2001 and 2009 overall the population growth in Small Towns was 4.3% compared to 4.7% for England as a whole.
Despite overall population growth (469,000) between 2001 and 2009, this figure disguises declines in the age group of young families (30-44) and a larger growth in retired population. Moreover one in three Small Towns experienced a decrease in population.
Nationally, the majority of Banks and Building Societies, Petrol Stations, Post Offices, Secondary Schools and Supermarkets are located in Small Towns.
Amongst towns of all sizes Small Towns saw the lowest percentage loss (-22.5%) of Post Offices between 2000 and 2010.
Those out of work and seeking help into employment, training or accessing benefit payments in Small Towns and smaller settlements, will have to travel, on average, greater than 6km or more to access face to face Job Centres Plus services.
Small Towns have the second highest proportion of national businesses (21%) and employees (17%) after Metropolitan areas (33% and 36%).
Between 2008 and 2010 Small Towns experienced a 3% decline in the number of businesses compared to a national average decrease of 2.7%.
The London (67%) and North East (72%) regions have the greatest proportions of the most deprived Small Towns whereas the East of England (14%) and the South East (12%) regions have the least.
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