There must be a significant increase in the provision of affordable housing in rural areas to prevent a decline in Britain's countryside communities, a new report warns.
About 23,000 young households a year are being prevented from setting up in their local rural area because of rising house prices and a lack of social housing, the affordable rural housing commission finds.
It says the government must make the issue of rural housing a priority - if it waits until the often more visible urban needs are met, it might be too late.
The report warns that as young people are priced out of rural areas, families are less able to support each other and local services such as schools and shops find it harder to keep going.
"Having worked hard to make urban areas more attractive and sustainable, we will look back and find we have created rural areas which are less sustainable and increasingly
socially polarised," it says.
The government has taken action to address the problem, giving local and regional planners a clear requirement to address rural needs and giving new power for councils to negotiate some affordable housing from private developments.
The report finds changes to the council tax system, which gives local authorities the power to reduce the discount on second homes to just ten per cent, have also raised about £45 million, much of which has been spent on affordable homes.
And it says the idea of a 'local impact tax', a levy on second homes being considered in the Lyons review of local government, could be used to fund more affordable housing.
However, the commission warns there must also be a "significant increase" in affordable housing, and calls for a minimum of 11,000 homes to be built each year.
Because such developments are likely to be unpopular, it says strong leadership is essential to develop a consensus "from the grassroots up, embracing the wider interests of rural areas, so that people from all backgrounds are able to live there".
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) welcomed the report, in particular its concern that increasing affordable housing must be done within the existing planning system.
"The misguided voices calling for a building free-for-all have rightly been ignored. That would have been a sure-fire way of stoking up resistance to building the urgently-needed affordable new homes in small towns and villages," said head of rural policy Tom Oliver.
He added: "We agree with the commission's view that second homes in the countryside are having a real effect on house prices and availability for local people in certain areas. The idea of a 'local impact tax' is worth exploring."