Better broadband access and improved transport options are key if more new homes are to be built in rural areas according to a new report.

The Countryside Landowners Association (CLA) has found that over 2,000 villages in 70 rural areas across England are being classed as ‘unsustainable’ by their local authorities. As a result, plans for new housing are not allocated to them, leading to fears of stagnation – what the CLA calls “a cycle of decline”.

But the CLA says the way in which villages are being classified as unsustainable needs updating to take advances in technology into account. They point to the finding that just 18% of local authorities consider broadband when assessing sustainability in a rural settlement, in contrast to 90% of them including post offices, primary schools and pubs in the same assessments.

Faster broadband will be a legal right

They find that rural areas are being classed as unsustainable based on criteria from decades ago, therefore modern facilities like broadband are less likely to be improved in these areas. Giving everyone access to broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps by 2020 as part of a Universal Service Obligation will be a legal right for broadband providers, according to the Government.

A complete switchover from the current copper-based networks to full fibre in the UK could take place by 2030, with new-build homes being prioritised alongside remote rural areas,  a report released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said recently.

Cornwall leads the way in the report’s findings with 213 unsustainable villages, followed by Wiltshire with 168 from the total of 2,154.

“Beneficial development can only be approved if the settlement is considered sustainable in the first place,” says the CLA in its report Sustainable Villages – making rural communities fit for the future.

“Failure to overcome this hurdle essentially stagnates the settlement – freezing it in time – potentially for the life of the adopted development plan.”

Change needed as rural population becomes car reliant

Settlements with fewer services from the list used by local authorities are deemed unsustainable, with under 50% of the authorities considering petrol stations and garages. With public transport hitting a 28-year low last February, rural residents are relying on cars for commuting, the school run and reaching essential services.

The CLA report underlines the need for more housing nearer to services or with better digital connections to reduce carbon footprints and improve lives. It also flags up an innovative idea from the Arundell Arms Hotel in Lifton, Devon, which has Tesla supercharger points in its car park. But it also points out that none of the areas it assessed whether rural settlements had electric car charging points, something set to become more vital as the country strives to reduce carbon emissions.

The report concludes that, “Technology and digital connectivity have huge potential to achieve this and strengthen the rural economy. Ultimately, addressing the economic and social needs of the people who live in that area is the long-term solution to the rural housing crisis.”

With the Government setting out ambitious targets to build thousands of new homes each year, revising how villages and hamlets are assessed and upgrading technology appears to be essential.