Government policy threatens to exacerbate the growing housing crisis in the countryside, warns Mark Hudson, President of the Country Land and Business Association which today publishes its report, ‘Housing the Rural Economy’.
The basic needs of rural communities for local housing have been forgotten in the Government’s ‘top-down’ approach to housing demand. Local authorities are struggling to reach affordable rural housing targets whilst large-scale developments on the edges of towns are allowed to take precedence over small, sympathetic housing schemes that allow villages to grow naturally.
Now the Government is proposing to do away with key planning guidelines and that will only worsen the rural housing crisis, increasing the gap between demand and supply and threatening the economic base of our villages.
The CLA’s report, ‘Housing the Rural Economy’, proposes a series of practical solutions to open up more land and opportunities for rural housing. It also accuses the Government of neglecting the needs of 13 million people who live and work in the countryside and face increasingly inadequate housing provision along with escalating house prices which far exceed their earnings.
House prices now lie out of the reach of much of the rural-based population, continues Mark Hudson. Unless the housing situation improves, people will continue to drift or be forced to move away. Local jobs will be put at risk along with local services and facilities. In short, the rural economy will suffer.
The report calls for policy changes on several fronts. The Government’s withdrawal of Local Authority Special Housing Grant has left a large hole in funding for affordable housing which will more than cancel out the increase in the Housing Corporation’s Approved Development Programme planned over the next two years.
At the same time, the proposed withdrawal of the exception site policy, which allows affordable housing to be built on sites that would not normally be granted planning permission, will restrict appropriate, small scale housing schemes.
The report also challenges the current stranglehold on the use of redundant farm buildings for housing another example of where Government policy fails to make use of existing resources to meet housing demand.
The report makes 17 recommendations to boost rural housing in England and Wales, including:
* a requirement for planning authorities to meet local housing need close to its origin through the organic growth of villages, with more allowance for housing to be built on the edge of existing villages
* more weight given to the use of redundant farm buildings for housing, along with a change in the definition of ‘brownfield sites’ to include land previously used for agriculture, which would free up more land for housing
* the retention of the exception site policy, with the further possibility of developers being allowed to ‘cross-subsidise’ affordable housing schemes through the construction and sale of open-market houses
* Persist ventures guidelines on housing provision in settlements of fewer than 3,000 people in greenbelts, national parks and areas of outstanding beauty to mirror the rest of the countryside
* the revenue raised from additional council tax on second homes to be used by local authorities to support affordable housing in rural areas
*the implementation of Government proposals to allow houses to be built for locally-based workers in rural businesses
“Rural communities and businesses are not calling for a revolution in housing,” adds Mark Hudson. “But they do insist that policies at national, regional and local level must help, not hinder, the provision of rural housing, and that a concerted effort is now made to tackle the growing crisis.”
“Our recommendations are not a charter for concreting the countryside. Rather, they are practical proposals to Government, local councils and planners, housing associations and landowners to sustain rural communities and help them to thrive. Part of our job will be to support some of the more imaginative rural housing solutions being pioneered in different parts of the country.”
‘Housing the Rural Economy’ was produced by a working group of CLA members in consultation with professional planners, housing associations and others active in the provision of rural housing.
Exception site guidelines enable local planning authorities to grant permission for affordable housing for small sites, within and around existing villages, which under the local plan would not otherwise be released for housing.