Hinterland - 11 May 2020

The return of the rural touring phenomenon, earlier lifting of lockdown on the cards for rural areas? The broadband deficits affecting the capability of rural folks to operate from home, tourism bosses shadow boxing with the lockdown and fears over house prices and city flight.. much to chew over in Hinterland this week.

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Cities could be treated differently to rural areas when lockdown restrictions are lifted, hints Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

I’ve thought for a while that this might be the case but as the story below suggests lockdown might end up being differentially lifted with rural areas being at the top of the queue. It tells us:

Cities and rural areas could be treated differently when coronavirus lockdown measures are eased, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser hinted today. 

Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs that the spread of the deadly disease was different in different parts of the UK. 

He said 'densely-populated places have a higher prevalence than rural places' and that means loosening restrictions could be tailored to each. 

However, he suggested such an approach would not be without difficulties because regions would need to be carefully defined and the flow of people in and out would have to be monitored. 


1 in 10 rural English and Welsh properties don't have superfast broadband option

Well here’s a surprise….

The overall UK superfast coverage figures may have 96.33% of the UK with a 30 Mbps or faster broadband option and in England it is marginally higher at 96.86% but lower in Wales at 95.1%.

What these overall figures hide is the variation that occurs and the biggest level of variation is down to whether properties are in a rural or urban postcode, so in rural England and Wales superfast coverage is down at 89.5% versus 98.6% in urban areas. Things get worse as you head into the very obviously rural areas where 1 in 5 don't have access to a superfast option.

The total number of premises in England and Wales is 26,794,267 and whether a postcode is classified as rural or urban is determined using the standard ONS classifications. Coverage and number of premises is based on an analysis run overnight on 4th and 5th May 2020. Local authority level rural and urban splits are available but for brevity are not included. We will at some point May 2020 publish the Scottish figures too.

The good news for now is that the two rural definitions are ahead in the availability of full fibre, but the figures do make it very clear why there is still complaints about availability of broadband services and the chorus gets louder the further you head out from the urban sprawl. We are seeing the lead in FTTP coverage shrinking as urban areas see roll-outs from firms such as Openreach and CityFibre.

The poor superfast broadband coverage figures will have people wondering what was the point of all the BDUK projects, at which point it is time to look at a county level figures, where the rural superfast coverage in Suffolk has gone from 82.3% to 91.7% in the last two years. The urban coverage level in Suffolk in May 2018 was 98.7% and at the weekend when the county splits were calculated was 98.6%. 


Welcoming Britain back: tourism businesses set out post-lockdown plans

I personally, particularly in the light of the PM’s revised guidance, wonder why those places with lots of open space can’t begin opening up again, as long as visitors remain responsible. I was recently looking at the impact of the coronavirus on tourism businesses in parts of Lincolnshire and I am very worried indeed about the future, not just for the businesses themselves but their wider supply chain and the seasonal workers they wont be able to take on this year. This story tells us:

Tourist boards across the UK are setting out plans for a phased reopening of attractions and businesses as they endeavour to salvage some of the 2020 season. “We can’t afford to wait until lockdown’s over and find we’ve not got the plans in place,” said Gill Haigh, chief executive of Cumbria Tourism. “The question is how we reset.”

It’s a big question. Discussions around what to open and when are taking place against a backdrop of huge public anxiety about coming out of lockdown. An Observer poll at the weekend found that the majority of people believe it’s too soon to ease restrictions, and local people are understandably furious with those do flout the current rules, as happened this week in the Lake District.

The challenge for destinations is giving tourism the shot in the arm that it desperately needs while reassuring visitors, employees and residents that they will be safe. As a result of that delicate balancing act, holidaying in the UK this summer may well feel like we’ve time-travelled back to the 1950s, before the advent of affordable foreign travel: there will be day trips to beaches, parks and gardens; we’ll be able to buy an ice-cream but won’t be dining in a crowded restaurant; if it rains we won’t be sheltering in the nearest museum or indoor activity centre.

Outdoor spaces in rural and coastal areas and attractions with large grounds will be the first to welcome visitors, not just because those are places where social distancing can be maintained but because, post-lockdown, people will be drawn to nature for its calming effects


Rural areas are the 'perfect breeding ground' for domestic abuse, Cotswolds councillor says

The darker side of rural isolation during the lockdown is appropriately raised in my view by this article. It tells us:

When most people think of rural England, they think of peace, tranquillity and a slower way of life.

However, although a close relationship with nature and less noise from traffic can do wonders for some, the silence can be deafening for those trapped in abusive relationships.

Whilst the lockdown means that a lot of us are safe at home, this is not necessarily true for those who are now stuck at home with their abuser.

This situation is made worse for those living in remote areas, where the already-strained services have been made even more sparse by the pandemic.

Cotswolds District Councillor Jenny Forde (LD, Chedworth and Churn Valley), cabinet member for health, wellbeing, and public safety and chairman of Cotswolds Community Safety Partnership, has described isolated rural areas as 'the perfect breeding ground' for domestic abuse.

"I think the big thing is that the way abusers work, particularly with coercive control, is that they tend to try and isolate the victim. They try and cut off the connections [the victim has] with other people, and stop them from going out and seeing them," she said.

"So actually, in a rural area like ours which many of us enjoy, it's the perfect breeding ground for maintaining that isolation. For example, someone drove off with the kids' car seats in the car so [the victim] couldn't go out with the kids."


‘Rural renaissance’ predicted as prime house hunters consider moving to villages

I fear that this will lead to rising house prices and less affordable housing for those of modest means in rural England. This story tells us:

Many house hunters at the top end of the property market say having a dedicated space to work from home has become a bigger priority, a survey has found.

The research also suggests more prospective buyers could be expanding their searches to look for well-connected village locations where they can split their working week between home and their office.

Savills surveyed nearly 700 registered buyers and sellers in the prime property market between April 21 and 27 to find out how their attitudes to moving have changed during the coronavirus crisis.

The prime property market generally includes the top 5% to 10% of homes by value, depending on where properties are located in the UK.

Some 49% of those surveyed said they will be more inclined to work from home even after lockdown restrictions are lifted.

As a consequence 44% said a separate work space has become more important, rising to 61% of under-40s. Savills said good access to Wi-Fi is also becoming more valued, with 48% saying its availability is now more important.

“It is clear that the current crisis has made people think more about the space they live in, the attributes they most value in a home and in some cases, where they want to live, all of which is likely to drive activity at the top end of the market as we come out of lockdown,” said Lucian Cook, Savills head of residential research.


And Finally

Rural touring could offer the quickest route out of lockdown

During the plague Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Company went on the road. Rural theatre is an ideal starting point for getting our thespians back on the boards according to this article which tells us:

Reimagining how you might present theatre will be tricky in the West End and more traditional venues, but there is one small but significant part of the industry that may be able to steal a march once the government gives the go ahead for larger gatherings: rural touring.

As The Stage reported last month, this area is under as much economic pressure as other parts of the industry, but it has a significant advantage in that it is small and nimble, and relies on a network of personal relationships and volunteers.

This network and hyperlocal nature helps encourage what Karen Goddard, formerly with Eastern Angles and now a freelance producer, describes as “a feeling of security for audiences”. In village halls with flexible seating, it is likely the person who is sitting next to you will not be a stranger. They could be part of your ‘designated bubble’ of family and friends that has been suggested. The risk feels more manageable than it would be if you had to get on a train to London to see a play at the National Theatre.

Rural venues also offer opportunities for small companies such as Pentabus and New Perspectives, and for independent artists – often travelling very light indeed – to put work in front of audiences long before they may ever get the chance to do so in much bigger spaces. Large-scale theatres will take far longer to get back into production and are almost certain to produce less over the coming years.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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