I had a long discussion recently, with a structural engineer who came to look at the property I wish to buy, and he has been doing structural assessments for 14 years in France. During the discussion, I mentioned my concern about the future of the town, and he told me about his experience, and observations. He owns a place in the country near a small commune that has dwindled over the past decade: shops have gone, the population is mostly older with few kids, etc… His observations from his work on structural assessments all over France seem to indicate that many towns and communes are suffering even more than ever, economically. That’s common knowledge, I think; so my question is whether I could venture to ask the mairie such questions about the town in which I’m interested in purchasing property. Would it be impertinent to ask if the town has, for example, a strategic plan?
While of course it’s impossible to see the future, I want to make sure I understand to the best of my knowledge, without ruffling too many feathers of course, what I’m up against with my calculated risk to purchase and renovate property within a small, tourist-centered, wine-industry-oriented, town economy.
I know that many folks on SF own property in the country, and that is not affected so much, perhaps, by the changes in one’s nearest commune. I also know that in my case, it may be good to rent an apartment of course, but I’m not sure that spending a year in the area will be the answer. Please let’s not go there, in this discussion, if you don’t mind.
I’m just trying to make sure I haven’t overlooked any obvious way to learn about the future economy in small towns, villages, communes; and also I want to know if my asking for this information from the mairie would be impertinent, in your opinion.
Not all rural communities are dwindling and dying. I live in a small settlement of six houses in a rural situation in a small by population commune that covers a large area in terms of square kilometres. When I bought my house three of the six houses were occupied but all were in a poor state of repair. My house was a ruin, a roof that had all but collapsed, no electricity, water or drainage and mainly mud floors. My immediate neighbours were both single men, one in his late 40s early 50s and the other in his 70s. The younger man lived in a hovel, as far as I could see a cold water tap and electricity were about as far as his comforts went while the other lived a basic life in what was really only one room with a sleeping annex. The other houses were a run down farm and two empty houses, one shut up the other a shell. The location, like my house was cheap and cheerful but full of character.
Wind the clock on a decade and a half and the picture has changed out of recognition. My house has been renovated and has fulfilled my plans for it; my immediate neighbours have both sold, the hovel is now a beautiful country house standing in carefully maintained gardens and the other has been bought by the previous occupant’s granddaughter as a holiday home for her young family, the farm is a smart, busy mixed stud farm for race horses and they also keep beef cattle, one of the empty houses has been renovated and let to a family and the last, the empty shell, was renovated by a local farmer’s son and is occupied by him, his wife and two teenage boys. The community has lost none of its charm as a result of these changes but is now a beautiful, smart, friendly place to live. This change just happened, it was not a part of a great plan or the commune’s wishes.
I am treated as a real member of the community here and I’m sure that in part it’s because I lived through and contributed to this period of change.
It depends enormously on what you actually want out of life and what stage you are at: if you have small children you want to know that the school isn’t going to close down or be part of an RPI that will make things complicated for transport, you may need dialysis in your local unit and hope it will stay open, you may want a bakery you can walk to… if you work perhaps you want to do it where you live so eg be a kiné from home or the like. My village (population just under 1000) has a bakery with a bit of grocery added on but you need a car to get to it, a beauty salon, a post office, a hairdresser’s, a primary school, a dentist, an agricultural lycée and 4 restaurants including a Michelin-starred one. It is also 7km from Bergerac so any business has to be of the sort I just mentioned, the supermarkets have knocked any hope of a local general shop on the head. The main industry and employer of locals is the wine industry, then the restaurants, the teachers aren’t locals to start with, they get sent to jobs.
We bought our house in a hamlet of four houses with the intention if using it as a holiday home and then renovating it and retiring here.
The farm next door, in a very run down state, has been bought by the grandson and the family have helped to renovate it. He is a doctor in Dijon starting training to be an orthopaedic surgeon.
The house behind us is in the process of being sold to a young family from Lyon as a holiday home. The father’s parents are also from Lyon but live as retirees here and the husband is an adjoint to our Mayor.
My friend has also sold to Lyonnais, but this will be a third home for them.
We also have young families moving into the village, but our little area is sought after for its magnificent views.
A mixed bag.
The arrival of the LGV at Bordeaux and the planned modernisation of Line 26 Bordeaux -Sarlat promises to advance our local economy. We’re a very small commune but have seen the reconstruction of three houses and the building of two more in the last five years. You could ask to see the PLU, Plan local d’urbanisme for your commune/ Communauté des Communes (CDC) I’m sure the Maire would be only too happy to show it to you.
Agree with @davidgay that the PLU is the place to start. You may well find that a lot is available on line from your local Marie or nearby town’s Marie. In our case we are a very small commune, so the planning information is on the Town’s website.
You can also usually find minutes of local council meetings on the website (ours are) so you could spend half a day or so looking back through those, and it should give you an idea of what issues the place is facing and what ideas get discussed. Especially the meetings held in the spring of each year, around now in fact, when the annual budget is set. Also the local papers are a good source of information, they often have articles about the concerns of residents. You could even read the beginning of January editions going back a few years when they usually report on the Voeux du maire, which is a public speech most (all?) mayors make at the beginning of each year, taking stock of how things are going and outlining plans for the coming year. All kinds of ways of finding info so that if/when you do approach the mayor directly, you’ll sound as if you’ve done your research - you can ask how this or that initiative is coming along.
Our reasonably isolated commune on the PNR Millevache is striving to keep the population at between 180 - 200 adults. It is currently about 170. We (the commune) have a housing stock of 12 propertias for rent, 4 of which are brand new and we encourage renting to young families with children in order to keep the school open and with the hope that at least some will stay long term as much of the population is 70 and over.
Local and national government want us to close the school, which we stringently oppose and every year have to justify it’s existence and supplement it’s funding using commune assets. Currently we have about 35 children in the school up to age 11 (was 17 in 2003).
So, although we are probably doing as much as possible to keep our commune alive, there is always the battle against higher government whom I sometimes suspect would prefer everyone to live in bigger towns.
My commune has a primary school but it is further from my house than another in the neighbouring commune and a couple in the local town. It seems to be thriving however possibly due to the policy of encouraging new build housing in that part of the commune while cutting back on permissions in my part.
Thank you! I did not know this and as a result of your suggestion, I asked and was allowed to look at the PLU; in fact, I was allowed to use an empty meeting room with a large table on which I could spread out all the maps, etc. It’s online too, so I can look that way as well but the physical version was great to get to pore over, if that makes sense. Actually much easier to compare the different maps that way, etc. Anyway. Really helpful. Cheers.
Ann, thanks very much. So far, I’ve looked at the bulletin boards and read notices posted there and now per your advice I will delve into the minutes and so forth online; should be able to find these on the mairie website, so will look there. Onward. I appreciate your guidance.
I should add that I was horrified to hear that our school was “under threat” 2 years ago…
Then a neighbour whispered to me that it had been “under threat” for more than 40 years… back to when her own children were attending… we must remain vigilant and firm if we wish to preserve our rural life … she warned me… and I reckon she was/is quite right.