Latest research, released for Rural Housing Week, shows a rural family with one child, earning one full-time and one part-time wage, would spend nearly a third of their income on rent, compared to 26% or 29% in most urban local authorities.
Excluding London, rural homes are £87,000 higher than the national average.
This affordability gap is having a massive impact in rural areas. Young families are being priced out of the villages they were born and brought up in.
The working-age population of Rural England is actually set to decline by 75,000 by 2038, threatening to the viability of rural communities.
So what’s the solution? Here’s three ways we can build more quality, affordable homes in rural areas.
Promote more Rural Exception Sites: These are small sites on the edges of villages, where land is released for homes as long as they are affordable forever for people who live and work in the area. This keeps land prices low and the local community is in control of the process.
Rural Exception Sites have delivered more than 7,000 homes since 2011 but this model has scope to deliver so many more.
Government should exempt land sold for Rural Exception Sites from CGT to encourage more sites to come forward. Ministers should also think again on proposals for Entry Level Exception Sites that focus on discount sale and won’t meet a local need. This will raise land values and potentially undermine Rural Exception Sites.
Affordable Housing Contributions on Small Sites: The new draft NPPF rightly states at least 20% of sites for housing in a Local Plan should be small – half a hectare or less. This is good as it will support SME builders and encourage them to bid for sites.
But current Government policy is that an affordable housing contribution should not be taken from sites under 10 homes.
This is particularly damaging in rural areas, where housing sites are more likely to be small. So Government should allow local authorities to require affordable homes on sites of less than 10 homes. This will ensure the small sites policy delivers the affordable homes we need in rural areas.
Focus on Quality Design: All the evidence shows that if local people like the design of new homes, they are more likely to support new development.
The Government is starting to understand this but there is still more to do. When allocating grant funding, Homes England should give extra consideration to homes that are well-designed, beautiful and fit in with local designs.
This is particularly important in rural areas, which often have a strong local vernacular. We need to recognise this when we develop to build support for new homes Rural England needs.
I look forward to making these points to the new Housing Minister and working with them to build the new, affordable homes rural areas desperately need.