Our countryside is in the grip of a housing crisis. In over 90% of rural local authorities, average house prices are more than eight times higher than average incomes, while a single person on a median rural wage can expect to spend 46% of their income on rent. The revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and forthcoming Social Housing Green Paper both offer opportunities for the Government to demonstrate that it is serious about tackling this rural housing crisis; but to do so they must:
Help to bring forward land cheaply
Hold developers accountable
Be properly rural-proofed
Empower rural communities
Build more genuinely affordable homes
Bringing forward land at a fair price
Tackling land price inflation is crucial if we are to build more genuinely affordable homes in rural areas. Land with residential planning permission in England is now worth an average of £2.1m per hectare
– 100 times the price of agricultural land. To avoid exacerbating the problem still further, the Government must scrap the ill-conceived and ambiguously worded policy on Entry Level Exception Sites in the draft NPPF, which will succeed only in inflating land values in rural areas and undermining the delivery of genuinely affordable homes on Rural Exception Sites. Longer term, the government may also wish to consider more comprehensive forms of land value capture, as suggested in their ‘Supporting housing delivery through developer contributions’ consultation paper.
Holding developers accountable
In our recent ‘Viable Villages
’ report with Shelter, we demonstrated the damaging impact that viability assessments can have on rural communities. In 2015/16, across the eight rural local authorities surveyed, the use of viability assessments led to a 48% drop in affordable homes delivered. We are calling on the Government to amend its Planning Practice Guidance on Viability, to state that viability should be assessed at the plan-making stage across a whole local plan area, and that the resulting developer obligations should be seen as a clear and agreed minimum standard, not the starting point for negotiation.
We have seen before that well-intentioned government policies can have unintended consequences for rural communities if they are not properly rural-proofed. For example, the 2014 decision to exempt sites of fewer than 10 dwellings from planning obligations was designed to support SME builders and streamline development. Yet 84% of rural developments
in the preceding year were on sites of fewer than 10 homes. Exempting small sites from developer contributions has had a profound impact on rural affordable housing delivery ever since. We urge the Government to remove the 10 unit threshold, and to ensure that future housing policies are designed with the specific needs of rural communities in mind.
Empowering rural communities
If we are to build not only the quantity but also the type and quality of homes the country needs, then communities must be able to promote and shape the kind of development they wish to see in their local area. Neighbourhood planning can be an important mechanism for communities to achieve this, but the opportunity to feed into an accessible and transparent local plan consultation process is also vital. We would like to see the final NPPF strengthened to ensure that development which does not conform to local and neighbourhood plan policies can be rejected, unless the proposal in question is genuinely community led.
Building more genuinely affordable homes
Of course, solving the housing crisis in the countryside is not just about making sure that local authorities and communities have the right policy levers at their disposal. If we are ever to build enough genuinely affordable homes in rural areas, we need the right funding to pay for them. MHCLG figures reveal that last year only 990 homes for social rent were built in rural local authorities. At that rate, it would take 180 years to build enough homes to house the 177,600 rural families on council waiting lists in 2017. We urge the Government to use its Social Housing Green Paper to initiate a new social housebuilding programme on a significant scale, and to ring-fence a proportion of grant funding for use in rural areas, in line with the proportion of the population who live in them.
Only with concerted, decisive Government action will we see more genuinely affordable homes built in rural areas, and ensure that our villages and market towns remain vibrant and thriving places for future generations to live and work.