Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by The Land is Ours (AFH 60)


  A not insignificant number of people are living in marginal conditions (typically in mobile homes) in the countryside, without planning permission or with insecure planning status. There are also many people who would willingly build themselves a home, at no cost to society, if they had the opportunity, and who are, therefore, a wasted resource. The needs of these people are not provided for in present planning policy. This submission points to some of the policy areas which could be changed so as to accommodate these needs.

  1.  Chapter 7: Who We Are and Who We Represent

  1.1  Chapter 7 seeks to represent the planning and housing interests of rural low income people. In particular we provide a planning advice service for people who have been marginalised through their inability to secure appropriate affordable housing in the countryside. These people represent a minority but not a tiny one. They are one of the specific groups whose needs are referred to in Paragraph 13 of PPG3 on Housing. We also occasionally deal with gypsies, though there are other organisations better equipped to deal with the specific needs of this group.

  1.2  There is also a considerably larger constituency of people who would like to locate modest affordable accommodation of this kind in a rural situation, but cannot see any prospect of doing so. This includes farmers' sons or daughters and other local people who have migrated reluctantly to nearby towns. Many of these local people have access to appropriate land, and the capability of building/developing their own house, but cannot secure planning permission.

  1.3  People living in marginal conditions in the countryside are most likely to live in caravans or mobile homes, but they also may occupy self-built low-impact homes, chalets, barns, workshops, sheds, shacks, yurts, tents, boats and other makeshift accommodation—very often without planning permission. They include self-builders, farmworkers, smallholders, forestry workers, people working in other rural jobs, former travellers, people who have retired, people who don't like living in houses, self-builders, people with an illness who live in the countryside for health reasons, and others with particular needs. They include both locals and comparative incomers to the areas they live in.

  1.4  People living in marginal conditions are a minority amongst the sum total of people with affordable housing problems, but they are not a tiny minority. Chapter 7 deals with planning enquiries from about 400 people every year. We can only make a very rough guess that there could be 10,000 people throughout the country facing the sort of problems that we describe; many more if you include gypsies.

  2.  Our Main Concerns

  2.1  The problems encountered by such people are not recognised by policymakers

  The Rural White Paper does not mention caravans and mobile homes even though these have become an integral part of the rural fabric, and indeed any new farming or forestry enterprise is restricted to temporary accommodation for the first few years (PPG7 Annex I). We suspect that is because, like rural housing problems generally, this is a "hidden" problem—all the more so because people without planning permission have an interest in staying hidden. Similarly PPG3 does not recognise the existence of self-builders even though they represent a significant and growing proportion of housing new-build, involving a wide range of people.

  2.2  No provision is made for such people or their needs in planning policy

  There are only two applicable policies in planning guidance. One is Annex I of PPG7 which provides for mobile homes for agricultural and forestry workers. The detail of this guidance has been found, in appeals and in case law (Petter and Harris v Secretary of State and Chichester DC, 1999) to be inappropriate for many smallholders.

  Similarly, the rural exceptions site Policy in PPG3 is unhelpful: firstly it only applies to local people (we agree that local people should have priority, but less wealthy incomers to the countryside require accommodation too); secondly, the need has to be confirmed by local authority monitoring; and thirdly the policy is formulated in such a way that it is only open to bodies such as housing associations, and cannot respond to one-off proposals from self builders and other individuals.

  The result is that many people (over half the people who make enquiries to Chaper 7) live without planning permission, either surreptitiously or under threat of enforcement action, for a number of years. It is not uncommon for people to live in mobile homes for periods of 15 years or more with the threat of enforcement either over their heads, or hovering in the background. This situation is highly unsatisfactory for the people concerned, and undermines the credibility of the planning system.

  2.3  The proposal in paragraphs 5.69 to 70 of the Green Paper on Planning to make development without planning permission an offence is ill-conceived

  We assume that this proposed measure is not aimed at semi-homeless rural people, but it will have the effect of turning many such people into offenders. Similarly the proposal in the same section of the Green Paper to charge punitive fees for retrospective applications will impact severely upon people who find themselves living in a caravan or similar at short notice, because they have nowhere else to live. There is a risk that if these proposals become law, some people will be displaced, creating a need for transit sites or similar.

  2.4  These are all people who are able to provide affordable accommodation for themselves at no expense to society.

  We view it as a waste of resources that there is no provision for them to do so. This applies not only to those who are presently living in marginal conditions, but also to those who would happily undertake building/commissioning their own house if the prospect were open to them.

  3. Proposals

  3.1 The Rural Exceptions Site Policy in PPG3

  We would like to see this formulated so that it provides opportunities for one-offs and self-builders; and so that housing need for local people is assessed on the merits of each individual case, rather than reliant upon a local authority survey. This need could be assessed in tandem with the planning application, by planning committee or appeal inspector. There would need to be some agency involved which could assure dwelling remained affordable when occupation or ownership was transferred. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that the number of self-built homes has risen from 2,000 in 1978 to 15,000 in the mid 1990s; but that this reflects increased interest from relatively well-off households. The average self-built house cost almost £150,000 in 1999. The option for self-build needs to be made available to lower income people. (The Current State of the Self-Build Housing Market, JRF, September 2001).

  3.2 Low Impact Housing

  We consider that provision in planning guidance for forms of low impact development, would allow affordable homes to be built at very little cost for society with minimal impact upon the environment, and would contribute significantly towards rural regeneration.

  Scotland has had a policy for low impact dwellings in NPPG15 Rural Development, for 2 years and has recently inserted the following guidance into its draft NPPG3 Housing: "NPPG15 indicates that low-impact development, such as housing incorporating workspace, can provide both economic and environmental benefits. Developments using innovative, energy-efficient technologies with particularly low impacts on the environment may be acceptable at locations where more conventional buildings would not. The control of innovative low impact uses through the planning system is best achieved by a plan-led approach. Proposals should be carefully assessed against specified sustainable development criteria and the wider policy objectives of the plan."

  The Welsh Assembly has commissioned a research report into Low Impact Development, carried out by the University of the West of England and Land Use Consultants, due to report later this year. A number of Local Authorities (eg Gloucester CC, South Somerset, Mendip, Milton Keynes and Pembrokeshire) already have draft policies or supplementary guidance for low impact housing. In England these policies tend to fall foul of Regional Government (the Gloucester policy was dropped) because there is no national guidance on the matter.

  It is clear that this is an issue that English planning strategy will have to confront sooner or later and there is nothing to be gained by delay. Conditions in England are different from those in Scotland and Wales, and the issues involved are complex (too complex to enter into in detail here). Policy guidance providing for low impact development should not be introduced without considerable research and forethought, but we view that it is now time for that research to be carried out.

  3.3 Annex I of PPG7: Agricultural Dwellings

  This guidance is designed to meet the needs of farm-workers on large-scale commercial farms. We would like to see this altered to take into account the requirements of a wider range of people deriving a livelihood from their land. The following problems need addressing:

  It is almost impossible for more than one or two people at the most to meet the functional test; this effectively rules out all groupings larger than a family.

  No allowance in the financial test is made for subsistence smallholders.

  No allowance is made for part-time farmers, even though the NFU reports 60 per cent of all farmers rely on a secondary income.

  The statement in PPG7 that "normally it will be as convenient for [agricultural workers] to live in nearby towns or villages" is simply not true. Very often it is highly inconvenient for smallholders and small farmers to live away from their holdings, and it causes unnecessary commuting.

  There is no recognition that in many cases an agricultural or similar land-based enterprise may provide sufficient income for a family to live on site, but not sufficient to rent or buy a house in a nearby village.

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