Affordable homes on agricultural land add up to a solution
Ric Blenkharn, Bramhall Blenkharn Architects, Malton, www.brable.com
THE NEED for new housing across the country is a continuing political debate, yet year-on-year we are failing to provide the much-needed homes for a burgeoning population.
This need is particularly relevant in rural areas where house prices are typically 10 or 11 times the average salary.
Jim Bailey, chair of National Parks England, recently noted that without new affordable housing in places like Exmoor and the North York Moors, “they risk becoming either commuter settlements or groupings of second homes – not living, working communities.”
HRH Princess Royal,in the forward to a Rural Housing Alliance publication on the issue, said: “The absence of sufficient affordable homes in our rural communities is a problem that has got worse in recent years. High property values, increased aspirations to live in the countryside and limited development of new homes have all had an impact, resulting in many local households now being unable to afford to remain within the rural community where they have grown up and have support networks.
Small-scale affordable rural housing developments help to rebalance communities, keeping families together while providing a boost for local services. Parish and town councils are a driving force for change and a key partner in delivering affordable homes for local people.”
Fortunately, there are planning policies in place, which allow new affordable housing to be constructed for local need, under Rural Exceptions policies. Most local authorities have a policy in place to facilitate new housing outside normal development limits, where need for local housing can be proven.
Permission is only granted on sites where it has been demonstrated that housing is needed and the homes provided will be affordable and reserved for local people as a priority in perpetuity i.e. now and in the future. Small numbers of market sale homes may also be allowed at the local authority’s discretion.
To achieve this requires communities, largely through parish councils, to demonstrate that there is a need for local housing. Many local authorities have a Rural Housing Enabler to assist with this process. The enabler works alongside the community and landowners to identify need and also possible sites for development. Often these sites are agricultural land on the edges of settlements so care needs to be taken to ensure they blend with the local setting.
Such developments are finely balanced economically since grant funding is set at a minimal level.
Land costs will not achieve the values seen in towns and cities but, typically, figures for development generate £5,000£10,000 per plot, which can yield around £150,000 per acre, well in excess of agricultural values.
Having identified need and willing landowners, applications for planning consent can then be made. Most authorities have a stated aim to achieve affordable local housing and consent is often granted for such schemes.
Often they are modest in size of around six-12 dwellings, so that they knit into the fabric of village settings. Having been involved in a number of such schemes, I can vouch that they do indeed give real value to local communities but there is often tremendous opposition to such schemes, either through Nimbyism, or misunderstanding of what such housing is for. To me it is common sense. If we are to provide housing for future generations in rural areas, then it is vital that we provide homes at an affordable cost. That way, we can ensure that rural communities have the lifeblood they need to support local facilities and ensure that they remain vibrant places for all.