Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Country Land and Business Association (AFH 35)


  1.   The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions inquiry into affordable housing.

  2.  The CLA represents the interests of 45,000 members in England and Wales, who between them own around 5 million hectares of land. Many of our members manage and own a range of rural businesses including agriculture, forestry, tourism and many other forms of commercial activity. As people who live and work in rural areas, CLA members have a keen and direct interest in the continued prosperity of rural areas. The provision of affordable housing has important implications for the rural economy and communities, therefore, our interest in this draft needs little amplification.

  3.  The CLA considers that current housing policy has not developed in a way that will solve rural housing needs. Without affordable housing in the countryside, not only are people excluded (many ending up, against their will, relocated in urban areas) but also businesses and whole communities suffer.


  4.  We are concerned that the current approach in PPG 3, ie the sequential approach, while achieving its urban concentration aim, will mean that little residential development could occur in rural areas. This would ultimately be detrimental to the economy of these areas and the Government's aim of achieving sustainable rural communities. In addition, we have doubts whether local authorities will have the resources to carry out the brownfield assessment adequately. If these surveys are not carried out efficiently the whole principle of the sequential test will be undermined.

  5.  The CLA acknowledges that PPG 3 represents existing planning policy with regard to affordable housing and makes it clear that affordable housing is an important material planning consideration. It emphasises that the planning system has a key role to play in assessing needs and ensuring that they are met within new development. This guidance will strengthen the capability of planners to control the type and affordability of new housing, particularly in rural areas. However, the current approach to providing rural affordable housing is failing to meet rural needs; this seems to be confirmed by recent statements from the Countryside Agency. "Exceptions sites", though successful to a degree have only brought forward a small percentage of sites. In addition, the provision of sites obtained by planning gain is negligible, due to the size of housing schemes in rural areas. There is a need for an adequate policy that will allow a satisfactory level of affordable rural housing.

  6.  We were disappointed that the revision of PPG3 in 2000 did not take the opportunity to address the above problem and suggest other imaginative and innovative ways of achieving affordable housing in rural areas. We would suggest the following as a starting point:

    —  local planning authorities still seem to place too greater weight on other factors, such as environmental protection when considering exception sites. There is no priority given to the housing need in such circumstances;

    —  there is a case for land to be allocated for affordable housing. Such a policy will need to be carefully worded to ensure that occupation remains as affordable housing. It must also ensure that it does not restrict the provision of land for affordable housing, due to increased hope value by allocating the site. There may be merit in looking at the proposal put forward by the Countryside Agency for "Sites of Social Diversity". Though we would stress that this proposal should not be at the expense of current exception sites policy, it should complement this provision;

    —  an increase in the population of villages where local authorities can set appropriate thresholds for affordable housing may be appropriate, possibly doubling the figure;

    —  there needs to be a clear definition of affordable. This will vary from region to region. There may be a need for a mix of affordable homes, to rent and low cost to buy these issues need definition;

    —  affordable housing needs to be for the right people in the right location. This means having up to date local needs surveys to ensure that the housing meets a specific rural need. These surveys need to be readily available to landowners and providers of affordable accommodation. The policy will fail if affordable housing is provided and occupied by people who are relocated out or urban areas to meet its housing problem;

    —  affordable housing needs to meet a range of house types. Such housing is not necessarily small two bed terraces; family homes need to be provided. Again this relates to an up to date local needs survey;

    —  affordable housing is part of a wider debate in rural areas. There needs to be a close link to adequate employment opportunities and services such as shops and schools.

  7.  Affordable housing policies must be monitored by local authorities. This allows changes in need to be addressed, meeting the Government's objective of the right housing in the right place at the right time.


  8.  CLA members have made sites available for low cost schemes. It should be stressed, however, that the proposals of the previous Government to legislate for a right to buy rural Housing Association stock affected the confidence that such donated sites would remain perpetually available to the social housing sector. If more sites are to come forward the Government will need to convince owners that land given for social housing will be protected for this purpose.

  9.  The CLA supports the current recognition of the advice on resale restrictions and right to buy in rural areas. However, we feel there may be merit in increasing the threshold limit from 3,000 population, this would allow some larger settlements to retain their affordable housing stock. Although we have not researched a specific figure we would, for the purposes of debate, suggest doubling this threshold.


  10.  The CLA welcomes the improvements suggested in the Rural White Paper (Our Countryside: the future. A fair deal for rural England, 2000) to increase funding and provision of affordable housing, however we question whether this will be enough to meet the identified need. There is serious under-funding in the provision of affordable housing in rural areas. The Housing Corporations approved development programme has been increased to around 6 per cent in rural areas but this only brings the figure back to a level it was at a few years ago. There is a need to continue to increase this resource.

  11.  We welcome the increase in homes to 1,600 by 2003-04, as identified in the Rural White Paper, and we would encourage the Housing Association, as the Government's Housing Agency, to ensure this figure is met.

  12.  When setting investment priorities, we suggest care is taken when setting indicators. We continue to argue that there must be a move away from incorrect indicators of affluence such as car ownership. More detailed site-specific indicators must be used.


  13.  The CLA supports the need for sustainable, mixed and inclusive communities and agree that this can only be achieved if strategies are based on all stakeholders.

  14.  Whilst we agree that strategies reflect the Rural White Paper by considering flexible local transport arrangements, this must include recognition that transport in rural areas does not only involve a range of public transport modes. The use of the car is a necessity not a luxury in many cases, while there is also a significant proportion that has no access to a car. Such cases add weight to the argument that the housing strategy must be flexible to provide homes in more remote settlements and not just large local service centres. Thereby allowing people to remain in the communities they are familiar with.

  15.  The CLA fully supports the needs for housing strategies to be based upon up to date needs surveys. We wonder whether there is a place for the Housing Association to specifically encourage local authorities to carry out such work.

  16.  We support the commitment to housing enablers. In our experience we believe that such a role provides a valuable means of overcoming obstacles in achieving affordable housing. For example, liaison between such a person and our Three Counties Region brought forward many possible sites from landowners. Any development of this proactive approach is good.


  17.  Our final point on social housing relates to fiscal issues. New small business ventures are hampered often by the lack of affordable dwellings for employees of rural businesses. The Government should signal further encouragement to the construction of low-cost social or community housing by providing a deferment of any capital gains where, and to the extent that, those gains are re-invested in the construction, re-construction, alternation or improvement of assets that become social or community housing. Perhaps defining the latter by reference to the occupation of the dwelling and whether the housing is affordable.


  18.  Affordable housing is part of a wider debate in rural areas. There needs to be a close link to adequate employment opportunities and services such as shops and schools. Furthermore, we would encourage the recognition of low cost ownership. The CLA has long argued that in addition to low cost renting there is a need for homes for local workforce who are in a position to purchase at an affordable price. We are pleased this local needs aspect is recognised in the strategy.

  19.  We welcome the recognition of the importance of providing sufficient quality affordable housing in rural areas. As policies for urban renaissance develop it is likely to make new rural housing developments more difficult to achieve with obvious implications for prices. It is vital that people working in or wishing to remain near family in rural communities have the opportunity to find suitable housing.

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