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Rural Settlement in the Isle of Purbeck

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small globe iconThe rural housing problem

Figure 9 shows that house prices in the area have risen at a rate above the national average over the last decade or so. This has been due largely to competition from a number of different groups of people:

  • Out of area commuters
  • Retirees
  • Second homeowners
  • In-migrants

This high level of competition for a limited number of available properties has pushed the cost of housing to a level well beyond the reach of most local people. The problem is compounded by the fact that local employment opportunities are limited and wages are low. The average weekly wage for people living in Purbeck District in 2004 was only £449, nearly six per cent below the national figure.

The right to buy local authority housing has reduced the potential stock of moderately priced rented properties. This, combined with the inability of many in the established population to compete with newcomers, has led to significant fragmentation of some local communities.

Figure 9. House price increases 1998–2003.

small globe iconRural service decline

Dorset County Council sees access to services as a key issue in the county. Service decline can have a huge impact on rural populations. This is an issue that has affected virtually all rural areas in Britain in recent decades. The Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002 found a continuing decline in rural services in the Isle of Purbeck and throughout Dorset (Figures 10, 11 and 12). Some services had declined more than others in the previous decade. The survey noted a ‘dramatic decline in the number of shops selling general produce, whether they are incorporated within a post office, garage or as a stand-alone general store’. The survey looked at the following services:

  • Churches
  • Village halls
  • Village schools
  • Post offices
  • General stores
  • Food shops
  • Other shops
  • Petrol stations
  • Banks
  • Libraries
  • GP surgeries
  • Public houses
  • Daily/weekly bus services

In particular the survey noted that for Dorset as a whole:

  • Three out of four villages had no general store.
  • 38 rural post offices had closed since 1991.
  • Eight villages had lost their only pub over the previous decade.
  • 35 rural petrol stations had closed since 1991.
  • Four villages with a population of over 500 had no general store.

However, the Survey also noted some service gains. Six village surgeries had opened since 1991 and there had been no rural school closures in the previous decade. The village church, or chapel, continued to be the facility most available in rural Dorset (Figure 13). However, the trend in recent years has been for parishes to be grouped and served by one minister or priest. This has resulted in churches, particularly in the smaller villages, not being used as regularly as in the past, but rather on a rota basis. The number of Dorset villages with village halls has remained constant over the last two decades. Over three-quarters of villages with a resident population of 100 or more have a village hall. The village hall acts as a focal point for many rural communities, providing a venue for a wide range of activities.

Figure 14 shows the rural service situation in 2004 in the Isle of Purbeck. It includes the villages of Wool and West Lulworth that some writers would regard as being just outside the western boundary of the region. Corfe Castle has by far the best level of service provision. It is interesting to compare Corfe Castle with Langton Matravers. Both have broadly similar populations, but service provision in Langton Matravers is considerably below that of Corfe Castle. Clearly Corfe’s tourism function has been an important positive influence on services, while Langton Matravers' close proximity to Swanage (and thus a high level of competition) has undoubtedly deterred some services that might otherwise have been inclined to locate in the village. Other anomalies also stand out. For example, Ridge, with a population of almost 300, lacks a village hall. Ridge is one of six settlements in Dorset of a broadly similar size lacking this facility that a number of smaller settlements have (Figure 15).

Rural settlements are constantly in fear of losing services such as a post office or the one remaining pub. Privately owned services are lost more quickly than public services because, for the latter, the decision to remain open is not purely an economic one since social and political considerations are also important. Figure 16 clarifies some of the main factors determining the viability of privately owned services. Service decline makes people more reliant on transport, both public and private, to gain access to basic services.

Figure 13. Churches and village halls in rural Dorset – survey results in 1984, 1991 and 2002.

Figure 14. Rural facilities in the Isle of Purbeck, 2004.

Figure 15. Villages with a population of over 350 with no village hall.

Figure 16. Threshold populations and village services.

In terms of causal factors for rural service decline, the Dorset Rural Facilities Survey pointed in particular to:

  • The increased competition from urban supermarkets that can undercut prices and provide a greater range of produce than small rural retail outlets (Figure 17).
  • The increasing personal mobility of most of the rural population as the proportion of people who have access to a private vehicle has risen over the years. This enables most of the rural population to shop weekly and in bulk.

It is now the policy of Dorset’s District Councils not to permit the change of use of public houses in rural settlements unless it can be demonstrated that:

  • There is no local need for the facility
  • The retention is not economically viable and that there is no reasonable likelihood of an alternative facility being economically viable.

There have been some high-profile cases over the last decade or so where the local community has fought to save their village pub, sometimes with success but not always.













Figure 10. Rural post office closures in Dorset 1991–2002.
Figure 10.
Rural post office closures in Dorset 1991–2002.
Source: Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002.
Click here to enlarge.

Figure 11. Public house closures in Rural Dorset 1991–2002.
Figure 11.
Public house closures in Rural Dorset 1991–2002.
Source: Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002.
Click here to enlarge.

Figure 12. Rural petrol station closures in Dorset 1991–2002.
Figure 12.
Rural petrol station closures in Dorset 1991–2002.
Source: Dorset Rural Facilities Survey 2002.
Click here to enlarge.











Figure 17. Post office and general store in Studland.
Figure 17.
Post office and general store in Studland.
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