‘Proposal will limit new affordable homes in rural areas’

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Affordable homes will not be supplied as part of most small new housing developments and will be ruinous for rural areas where many people are already priced out of, countryside campaigners have claimed.

The Rural Services Network (RSN) and Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) have written to Communities Minister Brandon Lewis to object to proposals that would mean housing developments of less than 10 units would no longer have to include affordable homes through Section 106 agreements.

But the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said this was “completely untrue” as its proposals specifically exempt Rural Exception Sites.

Campaigners are not impressed with the exclusion of just Rural Exception Sites from the rule change however. Such ‘exception sites’ are designated by local authorities on land that would not otherwise be acceptable for development. Rural campaigners claimed that these sites were few and far between, and took a long time to set up as they were often outside of other sites earmarked for development and were therefore unpopular with communities.

Graham Biggs, chief executive of the RSN, said: “The 10-home threshold would be nothing short of ruinous for the provision of affordable housing in rural areas.

“Without an obligation to provide any affordable homes, the supply of affordable housing will virtually dry up.”

In a letter to Mr Lewis, he said the consequences of the policy change “would be no less than catastrophic” and would “fly in the face of localism”.

As well as Rural Exception Sites, all sites in villages with less than 3,000 inhabitants should be exempt from the threshold, Mr Biggs said.

Leah Swain, chief officer at Rural Action Yorkshire which is part of ACRE, said: “Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that in 2012/13, 66 per cent (1,905) of homes in settlements under 3,000 were delivered through Section 106 agreements.

“Clearly, the proposed changes would prevent a significant number of affordable homes being developed each year. This would have a profoundly damaging effect on small, rural communities – threatening their long-term sustainability.”

A DCLG spokesman the proposals were designed to address the nation’s housing shortage.

There is an estimated demand for 240,000 new homes to be built every year but, according to a recent report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, the current rate of house building is less than half of that.

A DCLG spokesman said: “Our reforms are about avoiding unrealistic Section 106 agreements on small sites, which result in no development, no regeneration and no community benefits. Setting a more realistic threshold for small developments will help increase house building and lower the cost of housing.”

Anne McIntosh, Conservative MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey, and chairman of the EFRA Committee, said key to the Government’s housing policy had to be to “bend over backwards” to help those on lower incomes to continue to live in the countryside.

“Any development of any size should have a proportion of affordable homes,” she said.