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News: Proposal to rethink on rural affordability

A new report argues for the government to allow planners and local authorities to take action on failing rural affordability by such means as limiting land prices and converting farm buildings.

Acute housing problems are facing growing numbers of families priced out of booming rural property markets, according to the report published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The report shows how young people needing homes in these rural areas are in a worse position than their counterparts elsewhere and that urgent action is needed:

  • Housebuilding levels are falling in rural areas down 4% from 2003-5, compared with a 19% increase in urban areas
  • The proportion of new housebuilding which comprises affordable usually subsidised housing has been just 6%, compared with 16% in the more urban districts
  • And right-to-buy sales of council housing have reduced numbers of rented homes by some 36% since 1980 in local authority areas that include rural communities. The position is so acute that in some communities the entire council stock has now been sold.

These factors are compounded by the pressures on existing rural housing from retired people, from those commuting to jobs elsewhere, from second home purchasers, etc.

The report calls for:

  • Better use of the existing housing stock empty properties, unused farm buildings, under-occupied social housing, etc.
  • A doubling in the current level of social housebuilding funded by the Housing Corporation in rural areas, adding 1,750 homes annually in smaller rural settlements and 3,000 homes in larger rural settlements.
  • Providing more homes for individuals and families in the "intermediate housing market" who cannot qualify for social housing yet cannot afford even the cheapest homes for sale.
  • Recycling the proceeds from council housing sales and the extra Council Tax resulting from reductions in the discounts on second homes.
  • Employing an extra 100 Rural Housing Enablers (RHEs) to work with parish councils, land owners, planning authorities, housing associations and others, to determine housing need, and find suitable sites.

Some of the proposals include:

  • Lowering the threshold at which planners can compel developers to include affordable homes in a proposal.
  • Use of ‘exceptions sites’ to secure land at a hugely reduced price, thereby enabling affordable housing to be provided without recourse to the usual levels of Social Housing Grant.
  • Allowing local authorities to specify, when granting planning consent for exception sites or allocated sites, that the price per plot be limited to a maximum figure, say £10,000, and the sale (as now) should normally be to a fully regulated, non-profit, registered social landlord.
  • Government should legislate to replace the public sector’s general duty of attaining ‘best value’ when disposing of surplus land to a housing association, with a duty of securing ‘greatest public benefit’. This would prevent statutory bodies from being forced to part with sites in villages to the highest bidder when they can see the real value of using the land for affordable homes.

The full report is available from JRFs website at http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/ebooks/9781859354926.pdf

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