Rural economies could reap the rewards of a “revolution” in professionals moving away from cities in favour of the countryside.
That’s the view of Councillor James Evans, Powys County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy, who says the county is starting to see interest from young professionals keen to move for a better lifestyle – as well from as corporate firms looking to relocate.
As Covid-19 restrictions have forced city centre workers to work from home many have started considering whether they need to stay in urban areas long-term, or whether they could embrace a more rural lifestyle and continue to work from home, he said. These were “young professionals with disposable income who want the lifestyle, freedom and fresh air” that a move to a rural area could bring, he said.
Councillor Evans said he had heard from local estate agents that property in Powys had started selling within days of going on the market, with cash buyers who were selling up in London looking to move to the area.
“We are going to see a revolution in people moving out of cities and into the countryside,” said Councillor Evans.
This is an opportunity for businesses across the rural economies of Wales to benefit, he said, as professionals who relocate will be likely to support local high streets and will be looking spend on experiences they are used to, such as in restaurants. He called on businesses across rural Wales to get ready for this potential “exodus” from big cities, focusing on their marketing and making sure their product or offering would attract this new customer base.
He also called on government to act now to ensure that the whole of rural Wales could benefit from this shift.
“We need Welsh and UK Governments to make sure that superfast broadband is delivered to all parts of the county,” he said. “We don’t want our towns to benefit but our rural communities not to benefit at all. We have to get the infrastructure right.”
Councillor Evans said there had already been approaches from one or two London-based corporate firms who were exploring the potential to move away from their city locations.
“They need an HQ but they are asking whether they need a big office in London,” he said. “They are looking at rural Wales and asking, ‘Could we base our company out of a barn?’ One of the companies said that a move to rural Wales would make it easier to get clients to come and see them.”
Such a move could also benefit people from rural Wales, said Councillor Evans, and not just those looking to relocate for a better lifestyle.
“Powys – and the whole of rural Wales – tends to have a lower wage economy,” he said. “If there is an opportunity for companies with high skilled jobs, such as tech companies, to move to the countryside, this will give an opportunity for young people from our communities to stay where they were born and bred and have a higher income, instead of moving to London, Cardiff, Bristol or Manchester.”
For those cities, said Councillor Evans, the challenge now was to reinvent themselves in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis and the shift away from city centre working, which could be here to stay.
“Cities have to become something different and find a new identity,” he said. Whilst rural areas had always been seen as heavily reliant on the tourism sector, this was something that cities now needed to look to embrace, he said, as well as looking to their history to determine what each had to offer.
“Cardiff has done this very well,” he said. “It hasn’t been overly reliant on business but has established itself as a city for culture.”