NATIONAL PARKS are being urged to press the government for special housing policy exemptions to protect the future of the smallest rural communities.
Former Richmondshire District Council leader, John Blackie, believes the affordable housing crisis that is forcing young people and families to leave their communities, and which was highlighted at the rural summit held by The Yorkshire Post last autumn, will be exacerbated by new rules currently proposed by the government.
Under an extended Right to Buy scheme, housing association tenants would be able to buy their homes at a discount and local authorities would have to sell off their most valuable council houses when they become vacant.
The changes are designed to generate funds for councils and housing associations to build more affordable homes but Mr Blackie, North Yorkshire county councillor for the Upper Dales, said small rural communities, such as Richmondshire, would simply be stripped of homes available for rent - leaving many young families and others with nowhere to live locally.
Another policy, which means developers do not have to build affordable homes for rent as part of development sites of five houses or less, heightens the risk that new homes for rent will not easily be supplied, Coun Blackie said.
“The suggestion from the Government that there will be a one-for-one replacement is simply wishful thinking,” he said.
“In the Greater Manchester area, 830 Council houses have been sold in the last three years under a rejuvenated Right to Buy initiative with much higher discounts, of which only 10 have so far been replaced with new affordable houses for rent financed by these sales.
“The fact is that once the housing association properties are sold off there will be no more coming to take their place in the deeply rural and rural areas in Richmondshire.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government said that nationally, local authorities are delivering more than one new affordable home to replace a home sold under the Right to Buy scheme, but Coun Blackie believes small rural communities face unique challenges and he will today urge the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to join other National Parks in England to lobby the government for exemptions to any extended housing policy.
A spokeswoman for National Parks England said: “We share concerns that the potential sale of rented homes in rural areas will mean an overall loss of more affordable housing at a time when the demand is increasing because of the disparity between rural wages and house prices.
“National Parks England is in contact with rural housing providers to discuss the best approach.”
Housing Minister Brandon Lewis defended the government’s record, saying: “More council housing has been built since 2010 than in the previous 13 years. However, it is important that councils make the best use of their assets and manage their housing stock as efficiently as possible.
“The proposals in the Queen’s Speech will do that and more, extending Right to Buy level discounts to over a million housing association tenants, with the homes sold replaced with new affordable homes.”
Countryside funding ‘unfair’
Rural residents are still getting a raw deal despite a new grant to address the “longstanding historic underfunding” of countryside communities compared with larger towns and cities, The Rural Service Network said.
Rural areas receive less funding for local authorities to pay for health and emergency services, and schools, network chief Graham Biggs said, even though rural people pay more council tax than urban people.
A new Rural Services Delivery Grant introduced by the government to reduce the funding disparity was worth just £1.10 per head in those rural authorities receiving it, Mr Biggs said, despite the government grant being £178 per head higher in urban areas.