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Whilst urbanisation and suburbanisation have resulted in large scale urban area growth, counterurbanisation has had the opposite effect. Indeed, counter urbanisation is when large numbers of people move from urban areas into surrounding countryside or rural areas. It is both a demographic (population driven) and social process; and has to a lesser extent also involved the movement of some businesses and economic activities. Radstats state that “the 20 major UK cities lost 500,000 jobs between 1981 and 1996, while the rest of the country has gained 1.7 million jobs.1

Counter urbanisation cartoon


The cause of counter-urbanisation is linked to the push and pull factors of migration. It first took place because of flight from the Inner cities in Britain, often because of economic problems in those areas. The collapse of inner-city industries resulted in large scale unemployment and a cycle of decline and deprivation in those areas. Newcastle-upon Tyne is no stranger to this process, as its heavy industries of armaments and ship building led to dereliction of inner-city communities along the river side. Poor quality housing and low environmental quality can also force people away from the inner city. Pull factors can also play a role. People want a better quality of life and they want to be able to live in a clean and quiet area. An area without air and noise pollution from heavy industries, the crime of urban environments and the lack of opportunities found in some parts of cities. They also aspire to having larger houses with more land for cheaper prices compared to the large towns and cities.

Government Policies

The Government of the UK also promoted this movement through its Green belt and New Towns policy (New Towns Act of 1946)2. The green belt policy restricted growth within the city boundaries and forced developers to look just outside of the city boundaries for other villages to develop. These new towns develop into commuter towns or suburbanised villages, also known as dormitory towns as people sleep and live in those towns but work elsewhere. Milton Keynes is a good example next to London, whilst Cramlington and Washington act as new towns for Newcastle upon Tyne and Sunderland respectively. There are 21 New Towns in England, established by statute and designated between 1946 and 1970. The father of the British New Town movement was the Victorian Ebenezer Howard, who wrote the book Garden Cities of Tomorrow and created the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn. Of the 11 New Towns designated in Britain between 1946 and 1955, eight were London ‘overspill’ or satellite towns and were welcomed by the London County Council.

Cramlington New Town

Cramlington is just 8 miles north of Newcastle but is outside of its greenbelt. It was originally a coal mining pit village but followed the New Town model in the 1960s and 70s. It received the go ahead in 1963 at the cost of £60million. 3 It was massively expanded around its old core; and can be viewed as square in structure in between major transport links (the A19 to the South and the A189 to the East) with a railway link running through it. The square structure was divided into 4 quarters, with an industrial sector in the North West away from the residential areas in the East and a commercial area in between.

Cramlington New Town

Many of the classic new town features can also be observed, including cycle and walk ways, leisure facilities, good schools, road access and great transport links. Indeed, according to “the 1946 New Towns Act established an ambitious programme for building new towns. It gave the government power to designate areas of land for new town development. A series of ‘development corporations’ set up under the Act were each responsible for one of the projected towns. Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, was the first new town created under the Act, with ten others following by 1955. Most were intended to accommodate the overspill of population from London. Since the 1950s, Parliament has authorised further developments in England, Scotland and Wales”. 2

You can see a public information film (great archive footage!) about new towns below;

In addition to these reasons, the growing popularity of the 'out-of-town' industrial and business parks as industry also became unsatisfied with inner city areas has promoted the growth of counter-urbanisation. Around Newcastle there are several good examples of this. Recently, improvements in rural transport infrastructures and increased car ownership have allowed a greater freedom of choice when people choose where to live. In addition, the growth in Information Communication Technology (E-mail, Video-conferencing, Broadband) has allowed further freedom as people can home work.

The effects

  1. Cities can shrink in size, and the demographic and economic of their areas can undergo significant change.
  2. Country villages are becoming increasingly suburbanised, they can therefore grow quickly and lose their original character and charm.
  3. Second homes are often bought in this counter-urbanisation process, often in more scenic areas of the countryside such as National Parks. In this case, people buy an additional property for use as a holiday home, but do not move there permanently. This has a negative impact on communities as houses can stand unoccupied for most of the year.
  4. House prices can be pushed up locally as migrants sell expensive city properties and earn higher city wages. The net result of this is that locals and in particular the young can be forced away as they are priced out of their own communities.
  5. Supermarkets and other businesses that are attracted to suburbanised villages that result from counter-urbanisation can have a massive impact on local services. Traditional rural services start to close as the new population will be reliant on the services of the urban environment such as the supermarket. The closures of village stores and post offices have caused major problems in many rural areas.
  6. Public transport goes into decline because the new residents are car owners. This can be a major problem for village residents without their own transport, particularly the elderly.
  7. Traffic congestion increases as a large percentage of the migrants will be commuting to work traffic congestion increases.
  8. Counter-urbanisation affects the layout if rural settlements, modern housing is built on the outside of the area and industrial estates are built on large main roads leading into the settlements. This has been the case in Cramlington, where the old core of Cramlington of the old pit village has been surrounded by housing estates and industrial estates.
  9. Inner city areas are left with derelict buildings, struggling shops and a cycle of decline.
  10. Middle class immigrants – social structure changes so this can cause local resentment
  11. Improvement in services in counter urbanised areas– e.g. gas mains, cable TV, supports local schools
  12. Supports some local facilities (e.g. pub, builders etc.) – although others may close
  13. Primary schools might flourish (or close) – young population - increase nursery provision
  14. Housing fabric improved, new housing, barn conversions.
  15. Light industry may develop, B&B, small hotels, bistros

NEXT TOPIC -Urban Resurgence


1 - Turok, I. and Edge, N. (1999), The Jobs Gap in Britain's Cities: Employment Loss and Labour Market Consequences, Bristol: The Policy Press. Accessed 29th December 2019 at

2- – Improving Towns, accessed 29th December 2019 at

3 – Ray Marshall, 2013, The evening Chronicle - Cramlington: The birth of a new town, accessed 29th December 2019 at  


Posted 14th April 2020 by Rob Gamesby



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