Rural communities are at risk of being priced out of a sustainable future, campaigners have warned as a new trust is formed to protect and build affordable homes to rent.
With house prices in the Yorkshire Dales nearly 10 times average earnings, young families are leaving in their droves, local leaders have said. And as a Community Land Trust (CLT) is formed to create protected homes to rent, they warn the time to act is now before it is too late.
“Young people are voting with their feet to leave the Dales,” said County councillor John Blackie, who represents the Upper Dales and is executive chairman of the The Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership (UWCP).
“They can’t afford to buy a house and there aren’t any houses to rent. Without young families, these communities don’t have a bright, sustainable future.
“The great danger is that communities’ infrastructures will collapse and we will become a retirement home for the elderly.
“Society is more mobile than it has ever been. Now’s the time to act. If not, it will be too late to save our communities.”
Immense housing pressures in the area have been widely recognised in recent years, with figures from the National Housing Federation showing the average property price in Richmondshire is £224,725, while the average wage is just £24,528. To ease the pressure, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) relaxed its rules on converting roadside barns to help create affordable homes for local people.
Young people were “caught in a trap” over a critical lack of affordable housing, the chairman said earlier this year, calling for urgent action to address the growing divide between urban and rural communities.
“New affordable housing is vital for our communities,” chairman Carl Lis said. “Community Land Trusts are a way for local people to make sure they get the sort of new housing that they actually need. Where we can help to make that happen, we will.”
The UWCP, run largely by volunteers, already runs services in the Dales such as buses and a Post Office. It is now forming a CLT to develop sites within the area for affordable housing to rent.
This is particularly important, they say, as many housing authority homes are being sold under Right to Buy legislation. The new houses would be protected for renting, beyond the reach of this legislation, to ensure there is a supply of homes available for those in need.
“We are likely, in my view, to lose all our housing association properties and all our council houses over the next 10 years,” argued Mr Blackie.
“In the Upper Dales, with all our remote communities, there are around 150 left. All of those are under threat of being lost to the rented sector. If we are not careful, we will have no rental sector.”
Two potential sites have been identified for development in the Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council areas, including for four houses at Langthwaite.
The trust is now in the process of applying for grants to fund the project, and while any schemes would be subject to the same planning scrutiny as any other application, it says that steps forward must be made now.
The impact of young families is already being felt, Coun Blackie says, with primary schools in Upper Wensleydale and Swaledale having only a small number pupils on their books.
“The numbers now are easily 60 per cent less than they were 20 years ago,” said Mr Blackie. “Once the young families are gone, services go as well. The shops close down. Health services are cut back. We want a bright, vibrant, sustainable future, but without young people that isn’t possible. It’s a deeply rural problem. If we don’t do this immediately, then before long another tranche of families will have left the Dales.”
Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are non-profit organisations set up and run by local people to develop and manage homes and other community assets.
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said funding streams were set up late last year to help CLTs deliver affordable housing.
Across the country, the DCLG said, 32,360 affordable homes were delivered in 2016/17.