ACRE welcomes new report on rural housing
by Claire McGine, Head of Communications

ACRE welcomes new report on rural housing

A new report on housing policy which highlights the challenges faced by rural communities has been welcomed by leading rural network ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England).

The charity said the report of the Rural Housing Policy Review, chaired by Lord Richard Best OBE, mirrored the asks of the next Government set out in ACRE’s 2015 manifesto.

The report, sponsored by Hastoe Housing Association, warns that families on low incomes face being forced out of the countryside faster than ever before as a result of recent policy changes.

ACRE, the voice of England’s network of rural community councils, is calling for the next Government to provide a proportion of affordable housing on all rural developments.

Chief executive Janice Banks said: “We warmly welcome this report which gives crucial insight into the difficulties of providing more affordable homes in the countryside.

“Rural house prices have risen 82% in 10 years due to strong demand compounded by years of a shortfall in house building. Add to this the lower wages for rural workers, and we see local people wishing to buy or rent priced out the community.

“ACRE, in its manifesto, is calling on the next Government to adopt a strategic, nationwide approach to delivering affordable rural homes before country villages become enclaves for the well-off, elderly and second home owners.”

ACRE’s key concerns on the affordable rural housing crisis are:

  • A chronic shortage of houses, especially in communities of fewer than 3,000 people, where a total of just 2,279 new affordable homes were built in 2013/14. According to the Rural Housing Policy Review, the fair share for rural areas should be 7,500 per year – that’s an average of one for each parish.

  • The rising price of homes - there is a higher ratio between lower quartile house price and average incomes in rural areas. Houses in rural areas cost 8.4 times the average salary, against 6.4 in urban areas.

  • The removal of a national rural housing development target, which means that developers will focus on urban areas where it is cheaper and easier to build.

  • The reduction in Government grant rates for rural housing providers. The Review’s report says that in 2011, grant rates were cut from an average of £45,000 per unit to £20,000.

  • The recent change in Section 106 policy, which removes the need to build affordable housing on sites of fewer than 10 homes.

  • A shortage of smaller, affordable homes in rural areas, posing problems for tenants affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ who need to downsize.

  • So-called ‘affordable rents’, where social landlords charge up to 80% of the local market rent, are not affordable in high value areas for people on lower incomes.

  • A reduction in funding for Rural Housing Enablers (RHE), many of whom are based within the ACRE Network of rural community councils. RHEs work with communities and developers to identify local needs; where they are in post, more affordable homes are built.

Ms Banks added: “The future for rural affordable housing looks pretty bleak unless the next Government rises to the challenge, rethinks its funding strategy and reverses recent policy changes – particularly the ten-unit threshold on new sites.

“The Rural Housing Policy Review notes that a number of different Government policies do not appear to have taken the rural impact into account.

“The ACRE Network, with its reach into 52,000 grassroots organisations, would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with policymakers to ensure that the unique difficulties facing rural communities are taken into account before decisions are set in stone.”