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Rural Housing Week 2021

It’s Rural Housing Week between 5th and 9th July this year – and to celebrate, here’s a blog from Sunila Osborne, Rural Housing Enabler & Accredited Community Led Housing Advisor.

Covid-19 has emphasised the importance of ensuring a good supply of affordable housing in rural England. Over the past year, we have seen how many rural communities have taken it upon themselves to organise good neighbour schemes and other projects where younger generations have stepped up and played an important role in helping older, more vulnerable residents cope at this difficult time.  As such, some of the strongest and most resilient communities have been those that have a mix of people living in the local area. 

Sadly, the acute shortage of affordable rural housing in England means that many communities do not have this diversity. Locally earned incomes are lower than in urban areas and house prices are 20% higher. In the most rural areas, households in the bottom 25% of earners need to spend nine times their annual income to buy a home in the lower end of the market. At the same time there is a shortage of properties for rent from housing association and councils – only 8% of the housing stock in villages of less than 3,000 population is in the social housing sector, compared with 19% in urban areas. Last year, 80% of rural housing development was for private sale, most of which were detached houses. At the same time, just 5,558 new affordable homes were built in the countryside. It is not surprising then that nationally of 26 village Housing Needs Surveys carried out by Rural Housing Enablers in the first quarter of this year identified 383 households looking for an affordable home, or which 60% of them earned less than £30k and of these, half earned less than £20k.

However, overall delivery is falling well short of what is needed. To address this requires a coherent package of measures backed by Government.  Capital grant funding is needed to provide social rented homes that are truly affordable across all rural areas, recognising the higher costs of building small schemes often in remote locations. Anticipated changes to the planning system also need to be rural proofed. These must boost the capacity of rural Local Planning Authorities and build in greater accountability through the Examination process and Local Plan targets to ensure rural affordable housing can, and is, delivered. A supportive national planning policy framework must be in place so councils can require affordable housing on all sizes of sites in all rural areas and ensure there is a better supply of rural exception sites. 

With or without these changes, leadership at a local level will always be needed to make sure schemes get off the ground. Sadly, this does not come in a bottle, but it can be nurtured by Rural Housing Enablers and Community Led Housing Hubs. Uniquely, they provide independent information and advice, ensure communities can constructively engage throughout the development process and bring the right partners to the table. For such a valuable resource, their funding is precarious. It is time their role was acknowledged and properly funded through the capital grant as other professional services are paid for and that the Government continues with the Community Housing Fund.

Case study: Why Risby chose to get involved (Statement from Parish Council, March 2021)

 “I have worked with Sunila (Rural Housing Enabler at Community Action Suffolk) on two projects recently.  I have found her very approachable and easy to work with.  She responds very promptly to queries both by email and phone.

She has given two presentations to the parish councils I have worked for. I have been impressed by the clarity of the information she has given and her knowledge.  She is always willing to answer questions and if she does not know the answer to question, she will find out and get back to me.

I have enjoyed working with her and hope to continue to do so in future.”

Risby Parish Council has always recognised the need for a range of housing to suit the needs of the community including affordable housing.  In recent years we have been contacted on several occasions by residents of Risby (including three in the last two months) in need of affordable housing and although there is some affordable housing in Risby it does not meet the current demand. We have already carried out two Housing Needs Surveys (HNS) one of which led to a Rural Exception Site being built with 6 homes (4 affordable rent and 2 shared ownership).

In August 2020 we were contacted by CAS to find out if we would be willing to carry out a Housing Needs Survey to help identify what housing need there is in Risby.  Data from West Suffolk Council’s Housing Team indicated that there were 21 people on the housing list with a local connection to Risby.

Risby Parish Council agreed to undertake a HNS to help establish the extent of the housing need and what types of properties are required to meet this need.  The Parish Council will also gain a better understanding of the views of residents about future housing in Risby.

The benefit of carrying out the survey will be to provide us with information which can be used when considering future planning applications.  The Parish Council is also aware of the possibility of bringing forward a Rural Exception Scheme but has not discussed it in detail as any future decisions will depend on responses to the HNS.

I have worked with CAS in one of my other parishes and my experience has been very positive although not without its challenges!  In any community opinion is always divided between people who support housing, particularly if it meets local need, and people who oppose any form of housing. – Clerk to Risby Parish Council

How can a Rural Housing Enabler or Community Led Housing Hub help me?

Sunila Osborne can offer you help and guidance. Residents identify the need for new housing, and properties are designed to be sensitive to the character of the local area. Above all, the idea is to provide homes in perpetuity for people with a local connection and that are within the financial reach of local people. This allows them to stay and live in their community where they can work, sustain local services and take part in the activities which make up village life. Such schemes are, therefore, very much at the heart of thriving rural communities. 

Sunila is also an Accredited Community Led Housing Advisor and can provide advice and support on community led housing projects.  More information can be found at Eastern Community Homes.

Contact details

If you would like more information on Local Housing, please get in touch with Community Action Suffolk’s (CAS’s) Rural Housing Enabler, Sunila Osborne, via e-mail sunila.osborne@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk or telephone 01473 345344.