More than 400 rural shops will close their doors over the next year at a rate of 33 a month if young local people continue to be forced out of rural areas in search of cheaper housing, the Rural Shops Alliance (RSA), the British Beer and Pub Association and the National Housing Federation (NHF) have warned.
The gentrification of the countryside and lack of affordable homes were also making it increasingly difficult for rural shops to find workers who could afford to live locally, RSA chief executive Ken Parsons said. He warned that many rural communities risked losing their vital services for ever, unless urgent action was taken.
The RSA is calling on local authorities in rural areas to draw up action plans to address the housing needs of their communities before it is too late.
"Once these shops and pubs have closed, most are gone for good - only a small proportion will ever be revived," he said.
The problem was being exacerbated by rich commuters and second home owners who were pricing local people out of the market and turning villages into "holiday zones", NHF chief executive David Orr said.
Independent retailer Brenda Brodie, who runs the Milfield Village Store in Northumberland, said she was battling to keep her profits up.
"We are all very uncertain about the future of the shop and are taking each day as it comes," she said. "The big concern is the winter months, when the day- trippers and holiday-makers are gone." The store lost its post office earlier in the year.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 affordable homes need to be built in England alone to meet demand in rural areas over the next 10 years.
❝ This is a big issue for village stores as young local people simply cannot afford to buy here anymore. Our council has been talking about providing more affordable housing for the past 20 years and has still not done anything about it. We have had to adapt our range to cater for a more elderly customer base, such as selling smaller pack sizes."
Creaton Village Store, Northamptonshire
❝ This could be the straw that breaks the camel's back for many small rural retailers who are already operating in a challenging environment with legislation, higher rates and competition from supermarkets. It has been particularly noticeable in our village where as soon as the local teenagers turn 18 they leave and rarely come back."
Cherilyn Post Office and Stores,
West Chiltington, West Sussex