Survey reveals 1 in 2 young people want to swap the city for the countryside

21 October 2020

A survey of more than 1,000 Londoners found that 55% of 18-34 year olds are more likely to move to the countryside as a result of the coronavirus.

The survey, commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) which represents almost 30,000 rural businesses across England and Wales, shines a light on the growing number of young people considering fleeing the capital in favour of the countryside.

With 25% of the rural population aged 65 or above (compared with 17% of the urban population), rural areas are ageing faster than anywhere else in the UK. The movement of young people to the countryside - who are more likely to relocate than any other demographic - would be a welcome reversal of the ‘brain drain’ that many rural areas have suffered as young people switch from rural areas to cities for employment.

Cheaper housing stock was the number one ‘pull’ factor for survey respondents, with 78% ranking it the most important factor in deciding to move. Digital connectivity (56%) and the ability to do an exisiting job from a new location (55%) were also rated as important.

The survey found that, of all those polled across all demographics, the COVID-19 epidemic has made 44% of people more likely to consider moving to the countryside versus just 9% saying the contrary.  Over a quarter (27%) said they envisaged working entirely from home in the future.

From cheaper housing to better air quality, a combination of factors is attracting talent to rural areas. However there is concern rural communities will be unable to seize this opportunity if landowners are unable to meet demand for houses or high-quality office space with fast internet connections. Government resources must be allocated across multiple departments to create an attractive environment for potential movers. Otherwise the opportunity may be missed altogether.

This is why the CLA - through its Rural Powerhouse campaign - has been making the case for a simplified planning system and investment to create a fully connected countryside , with OpenReach pledging for full fibre broadband in rural areas by 2025. The campaign aims to close the rural productivity gap, adding £43bn to the economy per year while transforming the lives of millions of people who live and work in the countryside.

CLA President Mark Bridgeman said:

“The survey results paint a very clear picture: many young people want to move to the countryside as it’s a fantastic place to live. It is energising and exciting to see a new generation that understand the value and opportunities of living and working in the countryside.

“There is now a window of opportunity to grow the rural economy, spread prosperity, support local communities and ‘level up’ our society.  We must not waste it.

“However for the rural economy to capitalise on this trend, Government need to provide modern  infrastructure. Without Government-led investment and reform , we will miss our chance. Planning reforms to allow landowners to deliver affordable housing and convert old farm buildings into modern offices, and investment in mobile and broadband infrastucture are desperately  needed to turn people’s dreams into a reality.

“These are two of the five key pillars that make up part of the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse campaign which aims to unleash the potential of the rural economy, by closing the rural productivity gap and transforming the lives of millions of people who live and work in the countryside.

“The truth is that reform was needed before the Covid-19 crisis hit. The Government must understand that the countryside is not a museum there to be preserved in aspic.  It is a living, breathing economy with huge potential.  With government support, we hope to welcome those seeking a better quality of life into the countryside, allowing them to fulfil their career ambitions without needing to live in a city.”

Survey Summary:

  • Fieldwork Dates - 1st - 5th October 2020
  • The survey was conducted via online panel. Population Sampled All residents aged 18+ living in Greater London.
  • Data were statistically weighted to the profile of all residents aged 18+ living in Greater London.
  • Sample Size 1,017
  • The CLA calculates that the rural economy is 16% less productive than the national average.  Closing that gap would result in £43bn of additional economic output in England alone   

Read the survey results here