Rural affordable homes in short supply

Rural housing conference held in Ely

Rural housing conference held in Ely - Credit: Archant

Rural people are being forced out of their communities. This is the stark conclusion of the latest national review of rural housing policy.

Rural housing conference held in Ely

Rural housing conference held in Ely - Credit: Archant

The report argues that increased competition from commuters, people retiring and second home owners, low wages in the rural economy and a decreasing stock of social and other lower priced housing are collectively damaging rural communities by distorting their demographic profile and breaking family and social networks.

Many of the recommendations are directed at central government. However, there remains much that local organisations and communities can do to create life changing opportunities for rural families.

Mark Deas, Rural Housing Enabler at Cambridgeshire ACRE, said: “Our work with rural communities across the County constantly highlights the issues raised in the report. Young people have to leave their communities in search of affordable independence and this is impacting on local services such as pubs and shops.”

Planners, housing officers and other professionals came together at a conference in Ely alongside rural community representatives to discuss the findings and recommendations from this national review.

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The review was initiated due to concern that much of the progress made from previous reports was being eroded and undermined by recent government policy.

The removal of affordable housing requirements from schemes of 10 or less dwellings, the abolition of rural housing targets and the indiscriminate introduction of the bedroom tax are all examples of a lack of effective rural proofing in recent government policy.

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A conference last week, jointly organised by the Cambridgeshire ACRE and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), was structured around a series of presentations, debates and workshops which teased out a number of potential solutions.

Stephen Hills, Director of Housing, South Cambridgeshire District Council, explained their commitment through the City Deal to deliver an additional 1,000 affordable homes on rural exception sites by 2031 emphasizing how they were levering additional government funds but would also need new forms of partnership working and more flexible approaches to policy at the local level.

Other themes to emerge included:

• Parish Councils can play a key role by championing the needs of the less well off in their community.

• Neighbourhood plans can help to deliver community aspirations but they need to be better supported and resourced by government. For some, community led plans may be a more pragmatic approach.

• More transparent processes are essential. These include a robust evidence base to articulate housing need. A better understanding of the development economics of affordable housing by both landowners and communities would help all parties to understand what can and what cannot be achieved. Finally, the legislation can be complex but there are tools available to ensure rural affordable housing remains so in perpetuity and is always prioritised for local people.

• Chris Parsons of Parsons + Whittley Ltd Architects stressed the importance of good design. Well-designed schemes are more likely to generate local support. However, they can also alleviate fuel poverty by reducing energy bills by up to 90 per cent.

David Potter, Chair of the East of England Royal Town Planning Institute, chaired the conference. He remarked: “The East of England can demonstrate many examples of great affordable housing schemes in rural communities. We need to ensure these become the norm and that every rural community in our region has the opportunity to benefit from such a scheme.”

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