Ru­ral hous­ing de­bate heats up

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country - Edited by An­nun­ci­ata El­wes

HE coun­try­side could be­come ‘the pre­serve of com­muters, the re­tired and holiday homes’, un­less lo­cal au­thor­i­ties ad­dress the short­age of ru­ral homes, warns the CLA. At its in­au­gu­ral hous­ing sum­mit in Lon­don last week, the or­gan­i­sa­tion called for greater sup­port from lo­cal plan­ners to de­liver prop­er­ties across the coun­try, but opin­ions were di­vided over pro­pos­als to re­view the green belt.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the hous­ing cri­sis as ‘the defin­ing is­sue of our gen­er­a­tion’, CLA pres­i­dent Ross Mur­ray cau­tioned that it’s of­ten seen through an ur­ban lens, but it’s ‘no less acute’ in the coun­try­side.

Lord Best sug­gested a two-pronged strat­egy that would pro­vide small-scale de­vel­op­ments along­side new gar­den vil­lages. ‘Very big [landown­ers] could cre­ate new com­mu­ni­ties—prince Charles has given us a very good model at Pound­bury. At the same time, younger peo­ple, fam­i­lies and some older peo­ple need a few houses—10 or so—on the edge of the vil­lage. That com­bi­na­tion of big set­tle­ments and tar­geted homes would help ru­ral Eng­land.’

The idea is pop­u­lar with landown­ers, with 63% of CLA mem­bers wel­com­ing the op­por­tu­nity to build on their land—if they have greater sup­port from lo­cal plan­ners. ‘The [plan­ning] process is so time-con­sum­ing and has so much risk,’ ex­plained Mr Mur­ray.

Ac­cord­ing to CLA hous­ing ad­viser Matt O’con­nell, ‘plan­ning should be re­ally pos­i­tive, think­ing about what

Tde­vel­op­ment an area needs to bring back fam­i­lies, jobs and the ser­vices, like pubs or post of­fices, that make our vil­lages vi­brant. We have six mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in vil­lages—we can’t say to a great pro­por­tion of them: “Sorry, we are writ­ing off your com­mu­ni­ties”.’

Much more con­tro­ver­sial was the mo­tion, by Luke Mur­phy of the In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Pol­icy Re­search, to re­think the green belt for the 21st cen­tury. In his view, the cur­rent pol­icy ex­ac­er­bates the hous­ing short­age. ‘Re­cent stud­ies show that there’s only ca­pac­ity for around a mil­lion homes on brown­field sites when, over the next 15 years, we need to be build­ing 3.3 mil­lion. Yet, within the green belt, there’s land that could be eas­ily de­vel­oped.’ Call­ing a re­view both timely and nec­es­sary, he ar­gued that adopt­ing a sound set of prin­ci­ples, such as pre­vent­ing ‘un­sus­tain­able creep­ing’ and im­prov­ing ac­cess to high-qual­ity green spa­ces, would en­sure a ‘mea­sured, sen­si­ble re­form’.

This ap­proach was chal­lenged by Tom Fyans of the CPRE, who con­tended that only 16% of prop­er­ties built on the green belt since 2009 have been af­ford­able, that los­ing what is ‘the coun­try­side next door’ for 30 mil­lion peo­ple would have huge costs and that solv­ing the hous­ing cri­sis should be­gin with ‘re­cy­cling’ other land. ‘We don’t think the green belt is the an­swer,’ he ex­plained. ‘We want to look at se­quen­tial ap­proaches that en­sure any loss of green belt is ab­so­lutely the last re­sort.’ Carla Passino

Sug­ges­tions for solv­ing the coun­try­side hous­ing cri­sis range from build­ing on green-belt land to en­cour­ag­ing landown­ers to cre­ate new com­mu­ni­ties, as The Prince of Wales achieved at Pound­bury, Dorset

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