It takes a child to raise a village 🏘️👪
Will a school closure teach NIMBYs a lesson?
Hovingham Primary, a 150-year-old North Yorkshire school is at risk of being closed by the local council, after enrolling no new children at the beginning of the school year in September. The BBC reported that local residents are now campaigning to keep the empty school open.
You couldn’t write it — because it’s already been written. In the Yes Minister episode The Compassionate Society, an increasingly exasperated Jim Hacker MP discovers that a local hospital has been fully up and running for 15 months with a staff roster of over 500, despite having zero patients. Well, biting satire has, once again, become reality.
Nestled on the edge of the Howardian Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) Hovingham has been described as a ‘quintessential chocolate box village’ by a local district councillor. It was listed by The Times as one of the best places to live in the country, offering a two bed, one bath cottage for £299,950, or a two bed, two bath, semi-detached property for £499,950. A rural idyll. But an increasingly unsustainable one. The very same Times article featured Murray Stewart, the chairman of the local tennis club, who said:
‘A lot of people have downsized from down south and bought up here, but it’s getting a bit expensive for youngsters to come and live here,’ says Stewart. Figures from 2019 that found that just 10 per cent of the population was aged between 21 and 40. ‘And that’s sad. It makes sense to have affordable homes if we’re to encourage young families and have a local window cleaner or electrician.’
Mr Stewart is clearly acutely aware of the danger of pricing out young people from rural villages. The same cannot be said for Simon Thackray, councillor for Sinnington ward in Ryedale District Council, which includes Hovingham. He wrote to the Yorkshire Post:
Ryedale District Council is currently consulting on changes to the Local Plan that will over-develop our largest villages and, conversely, apply a tourniquet to our smallest village communities which will starve them of new blood and the oxygen for life.
I urge, therefore, our small village communities to rise up and come together in defence of their future. Our small Ryedale communities are yet again under attack while huge housing development is being proposed in our larger, so-called ‘service villages.’
Journalist Jim Waterson, who grew up near Hovingham, describes this NIMBY attitude as typical of local residents.
The cost of NIMBYism is often thought to be restricted only to cities. This very newsletter has discussed the cost to the economy, living standards and public services of not building houses in our most productive regions. But comparable costs play out locally on rural areas too.
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Devoid of young families, priced out by a lack of local house building, these communities are, sadly, destined to atrophy. Their future is that of a open air care home, with residents that can afford to remain finding themselves further and further cut off from services, with local businesses closing or looking at reducing opening hours — unable to pay the wages required to recruit for cafes, village shops, local government amenities and post offices.
Increasingly dominated by second homes owned by rich retirees, these villages will not be able to raise a child for much longer. And yet, it would appear few of the local residents are happy about this proposed school closure.
Ryedale District Councillor Steve Mason said: ‘There seems to be a problem that has happened that is not down to the school itself. It's a good school and judged so by Ofsted. ‘To see a school like this go would be a travesty.’
Another villager Christine Horne said if the school permanently shut it would affect ‘community spirit’. ‘A lot of things went on centred around school, concerts at various celebrations like Christmas.’
Yet again, this is the outcome of our choices. Not building houses makes them unaffordable. No affordable houses means no families. No families means no children. And no children means no school, and no sustainable community.
We should urgently consider mechanisms like Street Votes that allow for gentle densification of our local neighbourhoods (which will only go ahead with consent, sweetened by the offer of a quid pro quo for development), and implement additional taxation on non-primary residences, in the hope of saving our rural villages and their residents from their current, atrophic fate.