Rural housing debate heats up
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