Case study: How the character of Hertfordshire village Ashwell has changed due to population rise (a product of counterurbanisation) 1: Where is Ashwell and what is the issue? Ashwell is a village in north Hertfordshire near the Cambridgeshire border. In the 1991 census, Ashwell had a population of 1,629, a rise of 23% since 1971. It has continued to rise since. Many are concerned at this change of character as demand for housing continues. 2: Why has this village’s population and size increased? a: Instead of a rural economy in which most people work in agriculture, a large proportion of Ashwell’s working population now work outside the village . There is a demand for rural housing from people who wish to move out of cities such as London and Cambridge. Salaries in London are higher than the national average. Many choose to commute , preferring a rural lifestyle. Ashwell’s population was in decline but electrification of the railway (which links London’s Kings Cross station with Cambridge and East Anglia) now means the village is 40 minutes from central London (an ARA). This increases counterurbanisation . This process reverses the one in which people move to cities. Based on a 10% sample, Hertfordshire County Council found that 37% of Ashwell’s working population commute to London or Stevenage each day. b: Ashwell has retained most if its village services and functions , so that many people are able to enjoy a high level of amenities, even though they are several miles from a large town. c: Changing family size and increasing family break-up: where 100 people might have been housed in 25 houses in 1970, those same people would now need about 35 houses. 3: How has Ashwell’s built environment changed since 1980? 1: Several conversions of older traditional agricultural buildings have taken place, such as barns into housing. They are in demand and expensive (picture A). 2: New housing has been built, especially since the 1980s. Modern buildings are often cheaper to build than barn conversions, are less individual, less sought after, and therefore cost less than traditional buildings (picture B).
5: What are the other key issues? 1: Ageing population structure. Life expectancy has increased and continues to rise. 2: The socio-economic status of Ashwell residents has changed. One-fifth of village residents are retired. Statistically they are better off than most in the UK. Many have seen their houses rise in value greatly over the past 30 years. 3: There is a good range of shops in Ashwell, but residents also rely on services elsewhere, for example large Tesco supermarkets at Baldock and Royston. This increases car dependency. 4: The local geology is chalk, an aquifer (water-bearing rock). The impact of growing housing demand on water supply is one of the many concerns expressed by locals. 5: Environmental issues:Gradual ‘in-filling’ of open land between houses in the centre of the village has led to the deterioration of green ‘corridors’ between houses. The village’s “Design Statement” encourages tree planting among new housing developments. 6: Increase in congestion and car emissions. 6: Does everyone benefit from this growth? There is an increasing gap in Ashwell between those who can afford the rising cost of housing and commuting, and those on low wages, such as farmworkers, those on part-time wages or on youth and training schemes who find themselves unable to afford housing. Increasingly, the young and low-income earners are excluded. 4: What about transport and traffic? Ashwell’s railway station is a key factor in its rising population, as it allows commuters to live in the village. Many rural areas of the UK have poor bus services, both as a result of their remoteness from major population centres and because car ownership in rural areas is high. Although wages for locally employed people may be relatively low in rural areas, a car is perceived as a necessity for work and family. Accessibility to Ashwell by bus suffers as a result. Compared to city provision, public transport by bus is infrequent. However, support and subsidies from Herts County Council have enabled services to survive.