Block new holiday homes to ease rural crisis, report urges

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New holiday homes should be banned in some areas of the country to help deliver more affordable homes in the countryside, according to a new report.

The Rural Housing Policy Review Group, chaired by Lord Richard Best, believes that where an area is experiencing high levels of second home ownership, local authorities should be able to require a proportion of new open market homes to be granted planning permission on the condition that they can only be used as “principal residences” - a rule recently adopted by Exmoor National Park Authority.

In “exceptional circumstances” the clause should apply to 100 per cent of all new homes, the Group’s report states.

The recommendation comes as people living and working in the countryside face a bigger battle than ever before to afford their own home, the ‘Fair Deal for Rural Communities’ report says.

Lord Best, in his foreword to the report, said: “There are severe housing shortages throughout the UK but rural areas face special difficulties.

“Competition from commuters, retirees and second home owners means on average rural house prices are 25 per cent higher than in urban areas.

“Local earnings are consistently lower in rural than urban areas, averaging £19,700 in rural districts compared with £26,900 for the major urban areas.

“And there is much less housing association and Council housing, not least because of higher levels of Right to Buy sales. Twelve per cent of rural housing stock is social housing compared with 19 per cent in urban areas. So housing affordability is a much greater problem.”

But Housing Minister Brandon Lewis indicated that second home ownership was a “human right” and he urged local authorities to seize opportunities through the Government’s planning reforms to deliver more affordable homes.

“National planning policy is very clear that councils should plan for a mix of housing, and any planning conditions must be reasonable and enforceable; in that context, trying to impose state bans on who can own property is totally inappropriate and simply will not stand up,” Mr Lewis said.

“Many of us in this country consider that the right to own property is a human right and a fundamental British liberty - and these liberties are worth defending. Trying to control private ownership via the planning system will ultimately require intrusive state inspectors to monitor the usage of every home and undertake state surveillance of every property.

“The better answer would be for the council to help build more homes, taking opportunity of the Government schemes available for more house building.”

In response to a written parliamentary question earlier this month, Mr Lewis defended the Government’s planning reforms, responding: “We have so far delivered 217,000 new affordable homes since 2010, and are bringing in £19.5 billion of public and private in affordable housing over the current Spending Review period. In the next Parliament, we are on track to deliver a further 275,000 new affordable homes, backed up by £38 billion of public and private investment.”

Despite those achievements, Leah Swain, chief officer for Rural Action Yorkshire, said many people in the region were still being priced out of their communities.

“Rural house prices have risen 82 per cent in 10 years due to strong demand compounded by years of a shortfall in house building,” she said.

“Add to this the lower wages for rural workers, and we see local people wishing to buy or rent priced out the community.

“The ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) Network, in its manifesto, is calling on the next Government to adopt a strategic, nationwide approach to delivering affordable rural homes before country villages become enclaves for the well-off, elderly and second home owners.”

Dorothy Fairburn, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association in the North, agreed that the shortfall in affordable homes remained stark and she highlighted how planning policies were proving difficult to work with.

“England has an annual housing shortfall of some 230,000 homes and CLA members in rural Yorkshire are keen to play their part in tackling the crisis and contribute to economic growth,” Miss Fairburn said.

“Despite the introduction of new development rights, far too many farmers and landowners in the region are still being thwarted by red tape when they try to convert redundant farm buildings or develop small pieces of land for housing.

“A major part of the problem is that many local authorities still do not have an up to date Local Plan that clearly identifies housing policy. Inconsistent implementation of policy, combined with an unwillingness to let landowners manage affordable housing themselves, is contributing to a crisis of underinvestment in housing across rural Yorkshire.”

Among the recommendations made by the Rural Housing Policy Review Group in its report is for local authorities and housing associations to adopt an “entrepreneurial approach” to financing and delivering rural affordable housing.

In particular, the report said, they should use their land and capital assets and their ability to borrow at relatively low rates of interest and, where appropriate, work together to increase the supply of affordable housing.