The average annual pay in Somerset is said to be £24,000, which only goes to show how unrepresentative averages can be. The figure is presumably arrived at by adding together everyone’s income and then dividing the total by the number of employees. It means that a small number of highly paid individuals can skew the real picture which is one where to earn £20,000 pa is to be doing well. But, even if it was accepted that the average worker earned £24,000, how would that person afford to buy a house? The average price of a terraced house in the county is £239,980, ten times the average income.
The answer to the inability of ordinary people to afford a house is to increase the supply, to bring down prices, but the local councils have set their faces against doing so. The countryside has become something that must be conserved as it is, developments of affordable houses are considered inappropriate. Reading the verdict of one planning inspector, the discouragement of the use of private cars is one of the specific objects of planning policy.
Of course, the corollary of such a policy is that the countryside should be conserved for those who can afford the farmhouses and the cottages. Ordinary people are not to be allowed the option of living in the countryside, they are to be kept out by planning and transport policies that militate against people on lower incomes. There is a deliberate attention to restrict the development of rural communities.
In France, it was the policies of President Macron that were perceived to be an attack on rural communities that produced the gilets jaunes. The hike in fuel prices, which was subsequently reversed was obviously going to bear down most heavily upon those who lived in rural areas and who lived on low incomes. Macron’s policies were seen as those of urban middle classes who had little regard for ordinary country people. There is a similar high-hardness displayed by those whose decisions are shaping the life of rural England. Developments of the expensive houses will be allowed, even in the face of local opposition, but a small house for an ordinary person cannot be considered.
Perhaps the French have acted before it is too late, perhaps the more rural nature of their country has meant the gilets jaunes could become the force they have. Perhaps the gentrification of the English countryside has gone beyond the point of no return.