The figures, obtained by the National Housing Federation using the Freedom of Information Act, found that in:
•2005 – 11 rural schools closed
•2006 – 13 closed
•2007 – 14 closed
•2008 – 13 closed
•2009 – 2 closed
•2010 – 6 closed.
The Federation, which represents England’s housing associations, and the National Association of Small Schools warned further closures were inevitable as families continue to be priced out of their villages.
A chronic shortage of affordable homes in rural areas is fuelling the rural housing crisis. The number of people stuck on waiting lists for a social home in rural England has hit an all time high of around 750,000 – driving thousands of young people from the countryside to urban areas every year.
Up to 1,000 village shops and pubs are closing each year as the countryside increasingly becomes populated by older people, wealthy commuters and second home owners.
Rural house prices tend to be well above the national average, while rural pay is below the national average. The affordability gap between house prices and wages has widened over the last five years despite the recession. But a failure to assess local housing need often means that desperately needed affordable homes are never built.
The Federation is calling on rural councils to draw up action plans to address the housing needs of their communities, and ensure that local villages are sustainable.
Local authorities should assess how many affordable homes were needed in their rural areas and draw up action plans to get those homes delivered, according to the Federation
A presumption in favour of keeping rural schools open was introduced by the Labour government in 1998, and subsequently strengthened in the 2006 Education and Inspections Act.
When recently asked about the presumption, Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP stated that it would remain, saying the Government recognises ‘the importance of preserving access to a local school for rural communities’.
The presumption does not mean that no rural school will ever close, he said, but closures must only happen where they are ‘clearly in the best interests of educational provision in the area’.
Federation chief executive David Orr said: ‘Village schools are often seen as the lifeblood of a local community and the families who live there. With pubs and shops closing in record numbers, disappearing schools is another body blow for rural England.
‘It would be tragic to think any schools are closing because of a lack of pupils, but with families and young people increasingly being priced out of the countryside, my fear is that this is a problem that will only get worse.’
National Association of Small Schools spokesman Mervyn Benfield said: ‘Schools are absolutely central to rural sustainability. There is every reason to encourage the balanced community life and services that village schools and young families have represented for decades across the social and economic spectrum.’
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