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Affordable homes in rural communities

Last week, Peers in the House of Lords were successful in making an important amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill to protect the provision of affordable homes on small sites in rural areas.

We are very supportive of the Government’s efforts to increase house building and support those who wish to own their own home. Our concern is that the Government’s proposal to introduce restrictions through the Bill on the provision of affordable housing in rural areas will have a devastating impact on the supply of affordable homes in these communities.

There is already an acute shortage of affordable homes in rural communities – just one in ten homes are considered affordable, in comparison with one in five in urban areas. Rural house prices are much higher, rural wages are lower, and the gap between them is widening.

Yet one of the most significant routes of building badly needed affordable homes for local planning authorities is their ability to take an affordable housing contribution from sites of less than 10 units. For example, 55 per cent of affordable homes built in villages last year were provided through Section 106 agreements on market sites, the vast majority coming from small sites. Moreover, the commuted sums which are gathered by local planning authorities from very small sites also fund homes built on Rural Exception Sites which are another lifeline for affordable homes in rural areas.

Despite this the Government was proposing in the Housing and Planning Bill to give the Secretary of State powers to determine the location and size of sites from which affordable housing contributions can be taken. This power would enable the Government to prevent local authorities from seeking affordable housing on sites of less than 10 units, which Ministers have been seeking to do since last year, but were prevented from doing so following a successful Judicial Review.

We welcome, therefore, the amendment that was passed on Monday, which seeks to ensure that local authorities will still be able to use these vital powers to provide the affordable homes their communities so badly need. We believe every community should be able to meet the affordable housing needs of their rural communities in ways appropriate to their circumstances.

On other areas of the Bill, Ministers have been in listening mode, recognising that rural communities have their own needs and require tailored solutions. We warmly welcomed the Government’s decision to allow an exemption for Rural Exception Sites from Starter Homes, and a rural exemption from the forced sale of council homes in some rural areas, though crucially we await the
detail.

We hope the Government listens again and accepts that rural communities desperately need the affordable homes that small sites provide. Without them there will be fewer affordable homes and a greater number of people who will be priced out of the communities they call home.

Sue Chalkley

Chief Executive, Hastoe Housing