UK Government urged to take steps to boost affordable homes in rural areas

The supply of affordable homes in rural areas of England is static having slowed to a three year low in 2016 and highlighting the need for fresh ideas to combat shortages in the countryside.

The Country Landowners Association (CLA) says that local authorities continue to ignore the potential of Rural Exception Sites with latest official data showing that there were only 1,020 affordable properties built on these sites last year.

Rural Exception Sites are small patches of agricultural land outside a village boundary that would not otherwise get planning permission for housing. Under the scheme, a landowner provides land at below market value on the basis the land is used to build affordable homes for local people.

CLA president Ross Murray explained that a core planning principle in the National Planning Policy Framework is the aim to support thriving rural communities but he says the figures clearly demonstrate this is not being achieved.

‘Rural Exception Sites are designed to provide much needed affordable homes for the local community in perpetuity and should be used to their maximum potential. A three year low in building rates is bad news for rural communities,’ he said.

The figures also reveal discrepancies between how local authorities are using Rural Exception Sites. Housing need is widespread but Cornwall has provided nearly one fifth of all affordable housing on these sites over the past five years while others have provided none at all.

Murray pointed out that the capacity of landowners to help develop the homes rural communities need is an untapped resource and that CLA proposals to increase supply carry little or no actual cost to the taxpayer.

‘Landowners have strong multi-generational ties to their communities and are often local employers. They wish to sustain that community for future generations and long term investment in affordable housing is an excellent way of doing this. However, there is not enough proactive engagement by local councils with landowners or incentives to bring sites forward,’ Murray added.

The CLA is calling on the Government to introduce Permitted Development Rights to build affordable homes to rent on Rural Exception Sites to speed up delivery and reduce significant and often disproportionate upfront development costs.

It also calls for a small number of market value houses to be allowed to be sold on Rural Exception Sites to incentivise landowners. Currently, market housing is only permitted in strict circumstances where the money raised from their sale is fundamental to make the development viable. Permitting a slight increase in market housing would likely result in more sites coming forward, the CLA believes.

It would like to see properties provided as affordable homes exempt from liability for Inheritance Tax until the housing is sold on the open market. The CLA thinks this would encourage landowners to convert existing properties and provide new stock and it would provide an incentive to make sure properties stay affordable through the generations.

Likewise if the value of land sold for affordable homes was exempt from Capital Gains Tax this could encourage the release of more land at a discount for affordable housing.