Headlines: April 26th, 2006

There is a call today for a team of Rural Housing Enablers to be employed to work with planning authorities and other bodies as part of a package of proposals designed to curb the growing problem of families being priced out of the booming property market in the countryside.A new report envisages 100 enablers who would work with parish councils, land owners and housing associations as well as with planning authorities to determine housing need and to find suitable sites for new homes. The report also calls for the proceeds from council house sales and the extra Council Tax arising from cuts in the discounts on second homes to be used to help provide affordable homes.

Today’s report comes from the Rural Housing Policy Forum, set up last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It has involved members of the House of Lords working with experts, to establish the extent of the housing problem in the countryside. It calls on the Government to act to help a growing numbers of families who cannot afford homes and says that young people in rural areas are in a worse position than their counterparts elsewhere.

The study details how housebuilding levels in rural areas dropped by four per cent in the period 2003 to 2005, compared with a 19 per cent increase in urban areas. At the same time only six per cent of new homes are classed as affordable – usually subsidised – compared with 16 per cent in more urban districts. It points, too, to the effect of Right to Buy legislation and says the position is so acute that in some communities all council homes have now been sold.

Turning to ways to deal with the problems the report calls for the Housing Enablers and the use of the proceeds from council house sales, but it also wants to see better use of empty properties, unused farm buildings and under-occupied social housing. It calls for a doubling in the current level of social housebuilding funded by the Housing Corporation to add 1,750 homes a year in smaller rural settlements and 3,000 homes in larger communities and it wants more homes for those who do not qualify for social housing but cannot afford even the cheapest homes for sale.

Lord Best, who chairs the Forum said, “In our visits to various rural locations, we have seen and heard the impact of losses of council housing and the failure to replace them. The next generation of local people with a claim to live in those communities face seemingly insuperable housing problems.”

A copy of the full report will be available to download from http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/