Just a handful of houses ‘could save villages’

Just a handful of affordable homes could save rural communities, a report says
Just a handful of affordable homes could save rural communities, a report says
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Building just a few affordable homes for young families in rural areas could halt the cycle of decline in Yorkshire’s most isolated villages, according to a new study.

On the eve of a House of Lords hearing on the shortage of affordable rural homes, research revealed that 52 schools in country areas across the UK had closed in the last five years because of falling populations, while 81 post offices had shut since 2011.

Meanwhile, countryside pubs have been closing at a rate of more than seven a week, with 1,365 calling time since March 2013.

The research was carried out by the Rural Life Monitor, part of the industry body for housing associations, the National Housing Federation.

Last night, a leading figure in the sector in Yorkshire called for “more leadership by politicians and less nimbyism” to increase the supply of affordable homes.

Tony Stacey, chief executive of the South Yorkshire Housing Association and a spokesman for the industry nationally, said the building of just a handful of homes could help to turn around some villages.

He said: “We don’t necessarily need 200 homes everywhere but we very often do need 15, and if people know that accommodation is becoming available, it can encourage sons and daughters especially to stay locally rather than feel that they have to move away to find somewhere they can afford to live.”

But he admitted that many housing associations were reluctant to build in rural areas because of the higher costs.

He said: “If I wanted an easy life, I would develop only on brownfield sites in the urban areas. The rural sites are much tricker. They’re more time-consuming in sorting out the planning.

“And if you’ve got a scheme for only six homes, you’ve still got all the overheads of setting up and putting in a site office. So proportionately, the scheme will be quite a lot more expensive.”

His view was echoed by North Yorkshire and Richmondshire councillor John Blackie, who said there had been no housing association development in the Yorkshire Dales National Park for about seven years.

He said: “In the early days the park authority saw planning as a real issue. They argued about whether you really needed 17 houses in a village or whether you could do with fewer.

“Now, they are actually inviting developers to come along and build housing in the national park.”

But he added: “Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, housing associations here in the upper Dales have been walking away from some affordable schemes and we have had great difficulty in whetting their appetite to even come and look.

“It’s crucially important – it makes the difference between some of the schools in the upper Dales I represent staying open or being under threat of closure.”

He said the roll at the village primary school at West Burton, near Leyburn, had fallen to 22.

“It’s a good school – the only thing it’s missing is children. And that’s the link between affordable housing and keeping schools open,” he said.

Mr Stacey said politicians must put houses before votes if villages were to prosper, and claimed that in some parts of the country, planning schemes were being undermined by ward councillors who did not want to see developments on their doorsteps.

He said: “It’s down to councils to make land available and to oversee the planning process.

“Politicians know that there are not too many votes in championing new housebuilding and that’s where we need people to be brave. We need more leadership and less nimbyism.”

The House of Lords will hear evidence today on the shortage of affordable housing in rural communities and on whether granting housing association tenants the right to buy their homes would affect the building of houses.

Independent councillor John Blackie said associations had “taken fright” when the government introduced a pilot scheme in some areas.

He said: “The value of their housing stock would have dropped immediately.

“Who can blame tenants for not looking a gift house in the mouth. They would be able to buy for £75,000 a beautifully built housing association property that in the open market would cost £240,000.”