The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Affordable Housing Crisis in Rural Communities: A Call for Political Action

The picturesque town of St Ives in Cornwall is a magnet for tourists, its stunning beaches and vibrant art scene drawing thousands each year. However, beneath this scenic surface lies a harsh reality for the local residents who struggle with an increasingly unaffordable housing market. As the general election approaches, it is crucial that all political parties acknowledge and address the pressing issue of affordable housing in rural areas like St Ives.

The Heart of the Problem

As recently reported by the BBC, Ben Hodgkinson, a lifelong resident of St Ives, spends his days selling boat trip tickets to tourists. Despite his hard work, the dream of homeownership remains out of reach. The disparity between local wages and soaring property prices is stark, with the average house price far exceeding what the average earner can afford. A 2022 study by the University of Exeter highlighted a gap of £229,878 between what the average earner could borrow and the average price of a flat in St Ives.

Tourism, while a vital part of the local economy, exacerbates the problem. High demand for holiday homes drives up property prices, leaving many locals unable to afford to stay in their hometown. Measures such as the 2016 ban on new builds being sold as second homes have not resolved the issue, merely shifting the demand to existing homes and inflating rental prices.

The Broader Context

The situation in St Ives is not unique. Across rural England, communities are facing a severe affordable housing crisis. The Rural Services Network (RSN) has long championed the cause, emphasising that rural areas, which comprise 40% of constituencies, are critical to the national economy and deserve tailored solutions to their unique challenges.

Rural communities often see higher house prices and lower incomes compared to urban areas, excluding London. The RSN's Winning the Rural campaign underscores the stark differences: the average residential sale price in rural areas was £424,000 in early 2023, significantly higher than in urban areas outside London. Moreover, rural rental markets are strained by the prevalence of short-term holiday lets, reducing the availability of long-term rentals.

Economic and Social Impacts

The housing crisis threatens the sustainability and vitality of rural and coastal communities. Young people and families, essential for maintaining local support networks and community ties, are increasingly unable to afford to live where they grew up. This demographic shift risks turning rural areas into enclaves for wealthier, older populations, eroding community diversity and resilience.

Affordable housing is also vital for the local economy. Rural businesses, from farms to small enterprises, struggle to attract and retain employees without accessible housing options. Key professionals like healthcare workers and educators find it challenging to work in these areas due to the high living costs. Addressing the affordable housing shortage is not just a social imperative but an economic necessity.

Call to Action

As the general election looms, the RSN urges all political parties to prioritise rural affordable housing in their policy making. A nuanced approach is essential, recognising the unique needs and contributions of rural areas. The RSN advocates for policy changes that include:

  • Affordable Housing Quotas: Local authorities should be empowered to demand affordable homes on smaller projects in rural areas and ensure these homes are built locally.
  • Increased Funding: Homes England’s funding for rural affordable homes should be increased to reflect the rural population's needs, covering higher rural building costs and promoting energy-efficient, well-designed homes.
  • Community-Led Housing: Boosting the Community Housing Fund to support more rural housing projects and allocating specific funding for rural community-led housing initiatives.
  • Protection of Affordable Rentals: Ensuring exception sites primarily offer affordable rental homes to meet the needs of young families and essential workers.
  • Flexible Use of Funds: Giving local authorities more time to utilise funds from sold affordable homes, providing additional support to ensure sustainable affordable housing provision.

The residents of St Ives and rural communities across the country deserve better. Affordable housing is not a luxury but a fundamental right that supports the social fabric and economic health of these areas. As political leaders seek votes, they must not overlook the critical issues facing rural constituencies. By addressing the affordable housing crisis, we can ensure that rural areas remain vibrant, diverse, and economically robust, benefiting the entire nation.

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