Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Bedfordshire Councils' Planning Consortium (AH 99)


  Rising house prices in a climate where such rises far outstrip increases in wage rates, particularly in a rural economy, coupled with the loss of rural affordable housing through right-to-buy, have brought about a familiar pattern of the inability of many local people to afford market housing in order to remain in, or close to, the parish of their birth or close to their rural employment. There is also of course the issue of key workers being unable to afford market price accommodation in this area. Too little has been done for too long to address this ever escalating problem. The Consortium supports mechanisms to bring forward affordable housing in rural locations to counter this problem and to address the loss of social cohesion that it brings as locals move away to find housing.

  Many villages in the past 20 years have only seen the construction of large, detached, expensive houses, which has badly upset the balance of the housing stock in these communities. Such communities need Local Authority Planning Departments to build into their Local Development Frameworks that future housing developments in these villages must include, where possible, a clear and positive move to insist on a goodly proportion of "market housing" being smaller, less expensive properties, including starter homes, to redress the "balance".


  Mid Bedfordshire District Council has recently introduced a Supplementary Planning Guidance on Affordable Housing, which requires developers to provide on larger sites a minimum of 28% Affordable homes. As windfall sites and smaller sites are not included, in reality the proportion of newly built homes that will be Affordable is bound to be less than 25% in Mid Beds. Such Affordable Homes will be funded by the developers via S106 agreements. At least this is far better than those neighbouring authorities which have yet to produce their own SPG to cover Affordable Housing or have no plan to do so, as with Milton Keynes!! The East of England plan has an overall target to provide affordable housing at the rate of at least 30%. How can this possibly be achieved when LA planning departments are not attempting to hit this target? Realistically, to achieve the target, surely some significant Government funding has to be brought into the equation!


  As advised above, we have a District Council which has introduced an SPG on Affordable Housing which will produce an appreciable number of such homes in the years to come—a forward thinking policy which is to be applauded. However, their policy regarding the allocation of these dwellings remains unchanged being based purely on a points system for people on the housing register for the District as a whole. The Consortium would propose that, based on a housing needs survey, routinely a proportion of newly built Affordable Homes is specifically allocated to local (parish) need rather than District need, which is currently the policy. Such a policy of local allocation would prove to be an important tool in rural delivery with specific advantages such as:

    1.  existing communities impacted by comparatively large developments will feel more able to accept this if there is some "pay-off" for them and

    2.  the presence of people from the existing community within new developments sets up valuable links between incomers and resident population.

  For a community to have new affordable homes built within the parish on an allocated site, have the evidence of a recent housing needs survey identifying a very clear need for such housing for people with strong links to that community and be informed that none of that truly local need can be met because of the allocations policy leads to considerable discontent. Not only does it appear unjust but also illogical and totally lacking in common sense!!


  The release of land for Rural Exception Sites is by far and away the most pressing problem for their establishment. From The Consortium's experience, the establishment of Rural Exception Sites has only been successful where land owned from the public sector was made available. Private landowners are generally reluctant to release land at values applicable to exception sites because:

    1.  They hope to hang on—even if it is for many years—and receive "proper" commercial value rather than the small commercial sums being offered for exception site development.

    2.  They are suspicious of a mechanism that expects them to part with land at a low value and then to see shared ownership properties delivering a rise in value to these householders.

  There is no real answer to this problem: certainly compulsory purchase powers would not appear to be a reasonable course of action. It has to be recognised therefore that rural exception sites are not the panacea to the problem of a clear need for affordable housing in a large proportion of smaller rural communities.

  The pivotal role of the Rural Housing Enablers in the process of delivery remains worryingly under-resourced. Training and qualifications are unstructured, contracts and funding are of a temporary, short-term nature and this hardly suits the long-term nature of the process of delivering Rural Exception Sites.

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