City dwellers moving to the countryside will only bring the heat of London’s property market with them

James Moore
·4-min read
By Kate Watson-Smyth
By Kate Watson-Smyth

One of the consequences of home working – which is here to stay however much the government would like it to be otherwise – is that it gives people many more options when it comes to where to live.

It appears they’re waking up to that fact. Property website Rightmove has reported a doubling of searches for homes in small towns and villages as city dwellers contemplate moving to the coast or the country.

From a personal perspective, I find this incomprehensible. I grew up in smallish towns and spent the early part of my working life in them before finding my way to London. The idea of giving up all it has to offer is not something I care to contemplate.

But there are plenty who feel otherwise; people who like the idea of somewhere a bit bigger than a £1m garage in a metropolitan centre but don’t much fancy the idea of the suburbs which are still pricey, where the air’s still mucky and where those of us that live in them are reliant on creaky, and now possibly virus laden, transport systems to get anywhere.

Rightmove also reports a similar trend in sales agreed to estate agents. Its director of data services Tim Bannister says what he thought could have been a short-term shift when the market opened in May has turned into a “medium-term trend”. I suspect the permanent switch to home working will make it a long-term trend.

This could be of benefit to cities if it takes some of the heat out of the more desirable locations’ over-inflated property markets.

One of the challenges cities face, and it particularly applies to London, is that prices have been getting so high that they have squeezed out the people who make them good places to live. The key workers who provide essential services, the young people, the creative types.

An evening of allegedly comedic conversation with the head of Treasury at Lloyds Banking Group ain’t selling too many tickets, and while I’m sure the members of the Barclays’ amateur choir practice hard when they can drag themselves away from their screens, they ain’t selling out the Royal Albert Hall.

Of course, the shift of people with fat wallets and a hankering for what they see as the simple life to rural locales is simply going to take the London property market’s heat elsewhere. It’s already happened in some places, especially those in which the really wealthy city dwellers have bought second homes.

Locals, and especially their children, have found themselves priced out, inevitably leading to tensions.

The issue was explored last year by Cornish film director Mark Jenkin with his critically acclaimed Bait. It looks like there will be ample fodder for many more such works.

Britain is in the midst of an unpleasant bout of hostility towards the immigrants whom an ageing population is soon going to be in desperate need of, whipped up to divert attention from the government’s grotesque policy failings.

The irony is that in some of the places where that hostility is strong, services are being strained and housing markets put under pressure not by people moving to Britain from overseas but by wealthy incomers from cities who look like the locals.

To help address that problem requires investment, not just into more housing (although that’d help) but into more tailored housing that meets the needs of places where there are shortages as well as the services they will require. The lack of affordable homes is a particularly acute problem that successive governments have abjectly failed to get a grip on.

The current one thinks it can address the issue by centralising and taking more control of an admittedly sclerotic planning process that’s partly been made that way by dint of the fact that local authority planning departments don’t tend to get near the top of the queue when limited supplies of funds are disbursed.

This has the potential to get entertaining for the current administrators’ opponents and for those that like watching disaster movies and/or real life train wrecks.

Just imagine the caterwauling when Britain’s wealthy internal immigrants in their new country palaces, with their pretty views and the sound of birds chirruping in the morning, suddenly find themselves living next door to Boris estates that bring the urban, or at least the suburban, living they thought they were escaping right back to them.

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