Somerset is distinctively rural and relies heavily on its market towns for employment and services. According to ONS data from the 2011 census, 48.2% of Somerset’s population live in rural areas, making it one of the ten most rural authorities in England. Accordingly, Somerset has a population density of just 1.5 people per hectare, compared to the England average of 4.1.
The 2011 Rural-Urban Classifications for Local Authorities in England, published in December 2014 and based on the 2011 census, classifies local authorities on a six point scale for rural to urban. Four of the five district authorities in Somerset meet the most rural definitions of either ‘mainly rural’ or ‘largely rural’. The only exception is Taunton Deane (Taunton is the county town), which is still considered to be ‘urban with significant rural’.
Somerset’s rurality is both a strength insofar as it provides a pleasant living environment, leisure opportunities, tourism and a wealth of natural capital, but is also creates distinct challenges, most notably regarding physical and digital connectivity, which among other things are associated with issues of rural isolationism and, in places, social immobility (West Somerset has the lowest social mobility of all local authorities in England).
Somerset is dissected by key road and rail links for the region, which are a significant strength for us in terms of inter-area connectivity, but there remain notable challenges in terms of intra-area connectivity, which addressed have the potential to boost growth and contribute to the county’s functional geography. Moreover, as the Rural Services Network has regularly pointed out, rural areas receive proportionally lower levels of funding than urban areas, despite the fact that in certain instances (e.g. social care) the costs are proportionally higher.
Rural areas typically have older age profiles than urban areas (see Statistical Digest of Rural England). Somerset’s is hugely popular with retirees, which coupled with an out-migration of younger people (10.8% of 20-34 year olds between June 2016 and 2017) and associated skills and labour market challenges, contributes to an ageing population more pronounced than is the case nationally. In the last 20 years (1997-2017) the percentage growth of over 65s has been 42.8% in Somerset, compared to 29.7% nationally (ONS Population Estimates 1997; 2017) and this trend is set to continue (see ‘Our Ageing Population’ page).
Please visit the Somerset Intelligence website for more information on Issues Relating to the Rural Nature of Somerset.