Spotlight on Rural Housing - March 2024

A quarterly bulletin facilitated by your membership of the Rural Services Network and produced in partnership with the Rural Housing Alliance, highlighting a selection of current rural housing issues and opportunities

Affordable rural housing manifesto launched

Ahead of the next General Election, “A Manifesto for Delivering Thriving Rural Communities Through Affordable Housing,” has been launched as a comprehensive blueprint for tackling the severe lack of affordable housing in rural England.

English Rural Housing Association write:

“Crafted by leading experts in rural housing and backed by a coalition of influential organisations, this manifesto sheds light on the stark disparity between affordable housing in rural and urban areas. While 17% of urban housing is considered affordable, this figure plummets to a mere 9% in our villages. This inequality not only undermines the fabric of rural communities but also stifles economic growth and social cohesion.”

The Manifesto recommends the development of a long-term strategy for scaling up and delivering a national programme of affordable rural house building, setting out a list of nine immediate actions which should be taken.

The Manifesto states:

“In villages across England small scale schemes of well-designed affordable housing are transforming rural communities, helping them to thrive and become resilient. They provide safe, high-quality homes for those unable to buy or rent in the open market. Because of these homes local households now have the opportunity to be part of the community where they want to live, whether it’s for work, to be close to family and support network or simply to be rooted in their community.

“The benefit of these homes goes well beyond individuals, they invigorate local economies, fostering growth and stability. The residents are often the essential workers on which local rural life depends – teachers shaping young minds, care workers aiding the elderly and vulnerable, a local workforce that sustains village pubs, shops, and farms. They are the lifeblood of existing businesses and the employees of new enterprises that will deliver nature recovery, sustainable food and the transition to a green economy.

“This organic growth in villages makes them diverse and inclusive places of opportunity.”

The manifesto lays out the small number of targeted steps, that will make this a reality that could be shared by rural communities across the country. You can read the full document here.

Addressing the housing divide in England’s counties

The County Council Network’s (CCN) latest report unveils the critical role counties play in housing over half of the country's population, highlighting a significant shift towards outright homeownership and private renting. This shift points to a deepening divide in housing access, with unaffordability and a shortage of affordable homes at its core.

CCN state:

“Seen as the traditional location of home ownership, shire counties have seen a decrease in people purchasing homes over the last ten years, with house prices locking more and more people out of ownership. This has led to more people entering the rental market, including those in social rented accommodation – adding to pressure on local housing.”

The report provides a ten year long deep-dive into housing trends into 38 county and rural areas which home 25m people in England.

One of the most striking findings is the dramatic increase in households choosing to live in county areas over the past decade. By 2021, there were over 800,000 more households residing in these regions compared to 2011 – a growth rate of 7.8%, outpacing all other local authority types. This trend is driven partly by the overall increase in housing supply, with county areas accounting for 51% of England’s total housing delivery during this period.

Councils are calling for the next government to set out a long-term plan for housing. This should include a renewed emphasis on delivering homes of all tenures, a greater focus on social housing, and a review of key policy areas, such as Right to Buy.

You can read the full report here.

93 new affordable homes for Herefordshire village delivered against the odds

Rural affordable housing provider Connexus is nearing completion on the final phase of a 93-home affordable housing development in Ledbury, Herefordshire. When complete, the 100% affordable scheme, which received around £3m in grant funding from Homes England, will provide a mix of one- two- and three-bedroom homes for affordable rent, with other rent to buy and shared ownership options also available.

With the last few properties set to be handed over later this spring and many residents already settled into their homes, the project has successfully delivered much-needed local affordable housing for the area. However, at one stage, it appeared to be in jeopardy when building contractor, Jehu Group, entered administration, leading to work stopping on the site. Connexus took action to bring the project management of the development in-house, retaining as many of the original sub-contractors as possible, and directly re-employing two former Jehu Group employees to help get the development over the line.

Amanda Knowles, head of development at Connexus, said:

“This is one of the biggest developments in recent years for Connexus. We’re thrilled with the end result, but it has been challenging with the impact of the pandemic, the loss of our principal contractor part way through development, and ever-increasing costs for materials and labour.

“However, there is a great need for new affordable homes in Ledbury and surrounding areas, and we were determined to see this through and create a 100% affordable scheme which will help local families get the home they need.”

As well as semi-detached and terraced homes, the development includes 2 two-bedroom bungalows for residents on the council’s accessible homes register. A ‘green corridor’ with a footpath and cycle way will run through the centre of the scheme, maintaining an existing public right of way and connecting the scheme to the surrounding community. There will also be a central open public space for families to meet and relax.

“We want to thank the local community for their support and patience throughout the development, and to our teams and partners who helped deliver these homes, sometimes with the odds stacked against them,” Knowles added.

For more information contact

Small is beautiful in Somerset village scheme

A development of two affordable homes for rent has been completed in the village of North Newton, Somerset, by WillowTree Housing Partnership (WTHP). A section 106 scheme, part of a wider development of just six properties, these semi-detached properties provide much needed affordable homes within the village, where there is limited new development.

The homes constructed by Gadds Properties, a local developer, have been built to a very high standard and to the same design as the adjacent open market properties within the scheme, incorporating Air Source Heat Pumps and EV charging points.

Works commenced on site in Autumn 2022 and the homes were handed over in March 2024.  WTHP prides itself in providing safe and comfortable affordable homes for local people who are not in a position to access the housing market.  Whilst North Newton falls within the larger area of North Petherton, these homes are governed by a local connection to the village of North Newton itself.

New housing support for communities in South Hams

In their drive to tackle the housing crisis, South Hams District Council have launched the South Hams Housing Offer, which aims to help local communities deliver more affordable homes in their area.

The Council state:

“One of the most challenging problems residents face is a shortage of properties which they can afford, and the South Hams Housing Offer will help remove some of the barriers for communities trying to bring housing projects forward.”

The South Hams Housing Offer provides funding and support to help communities kickstart housing projects, connect with Registered Providers (of social housing) and deliver homes where and how they are needed most.

For communities showing appetite in delivering homes in their local area, funding and practical help is available through the Housing Offer. This could be for communities just starting out who need help with setting up and exploring sites, or for more established groups such as Community Land Trusts who may already have a site in mind and need help with the next steps.

Landowners wishing to support their communities deliver much needed affordable housing can also receive practical help on how to donate or sell land.

Councillor Denise O’Callaghan, Executive Member for Housing said:

“For communities who, like us, are passionate about providing more affordable homes, our South Hams Housing Offer couldn’t come at a better time. Local people know their towns and parishes more than anyone, which is why we want to help them deliver housing where and how it’s needed most.

“We encourage those in the community, whether that be a new or already established group or landowner, to take advantage of the funding and practical support that we can offer.

“Housing is a top priority for us - by working together with communities, we can deliver more homes for our residents.”

You can read more and watch a short film about he Housing Offer at this link.

Housing Association funds meals on wheels and café venture

Hereford-based small business Bake and Create is hoping to expand its services following a grant from rural affordable housing provider Connexus through the organisation’s Community Development Fund.

Bake and Create provide a meals on wheels service across Herefordshire and also run the Henffordd Gardens Café, located at a Connexus independent living scheme in the city.

Between 35 and 50 homecooked meals are delivered every day to vulnerable and older people across Hereford and Fownhope but Bake and Create hope they can provide even more now their funding bid has been successful. 

Café manager Bonnie Collins said:

“We’re delighted to have received this funding which will help us continue our meals on wheels service. We don’t just provide hot meals; our visit also breaks up the isolation for people who may not see anyone else that day.”

The Connexus Community Development Fund awards grants of up to £3000 to support groups and organisations that are making a positive contribution to the wellbeing and sustainability of communities in Shropshire and Herefordshire.

Untapped potential of Rural Exception Sites

The recent report by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), “Delivering Rural Opportunity,” casts a spotlight on Rural Exception Sites as a promising avenue to mitigate the rural housing crisis. The document elaborates on significant revisions made to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in December 2023, aimed at fostering community-led housing developments in rural locales. Notably, it sets out an innovative exception site policy, designed to facilitate the development of affordable housing on lands previously deemed unsuitable.

This policy shift aligns with groundbreaking research conducted by University College London (UCL) on behalf of the Rural Housing Network and English Rural. The study's findings are telling - out of 145 rural local authorities examined, only 25 had utilised Rural Exception Sites to deliver affordable housing between 2021 and 2022. This resulted in the construction of just 546 affordable homes, a stark contrast to the nearly 3,000 homes that could have been developed had more local councils fully embraced this policy.

The underuse of Rural Exception Sites signifies a considerable missed opportunity in addressing the housing shortage that plagues our rural communities. In response, the Government's report lays out a strategy to invigorate the use of Rural Exception Sites, emphasising the importance of early community engagement, bolstering support for Rural Housing Enablers, and fostering robust partnerships among local authorities, developers, and communities. It also advocates for policy adjustments, including the recent updates to the NPPF, and calls for enhanced funding and resources for rural planning authorities.

The collective findings of the Government report and UCL research underscore Rural Exception Sites as an essential, yet underutilised, tool in combating the rural housing crisis. The call to action is clear: by implementing the outlined strategies and unlocking the full potential of Rural Exception Sites, we can preserve the unique character of the English countryside while ensuring our rural communities remain affordable and accessible to all.

As Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural, powerfully stated about the UCL study:

“The findings from this study highlight a critical pathway towards addressing the rural housing shortage. By effectively leveraging Rural Exception Sites, we can provide much-needed affordable homes to those in need, directly impacting the well-being and sustainability of rural communities.”

You can read the Defra report at this link.

Go ahead for affordable town centre homes at former office premises in north Shropshire

Rural affordable housing provider Connexus has secured planning permission following an appeal to redevelop Edinburgh House, one of its former office premises in the north Shropshire market town of Wem. The offices, close to the town centre, had been largely unused since the pandemic, with some sections falling into disrepair. 

The new development aims to regenerate the site and surrounding car park, with 18 new two- and three-bedroom homes for social rent and shared ownership due to be constructed. Parts of the old building will also be reused and redeveloped, incorporating 10 apartments and office space.

“In Wem, as in most rural towns, we are facing a significant shortage of homes that local people can afford to buy or rent,” said Kate Smith, chief executive at Connexus.

“Our approach to the Edinburgh House redevelopment will be to use this space to regenerate the area and address some of this shortfall.

“Through the newly developed homes there will be more opportunities for local people to remain living in the town, who may otherwise have been priced out,” Smith added. 

Work in Wem is planned to start this autumn, with the last homes on the site expected to be completed in spring 2026.

Youth homelessness grants available from Comic Relief

Comic Relief has launched a new funding opportunity for organisations that specialise in providing support to young people aged 16-25 in the UK, who are at risk of, or experiencing homelessness. The ‘Every Step of the Way’ programme is aimed at organisations that do both of the following:

  • Specialise in the provision of holistic support to young people aged 16-25 in the UK, who are at immediate risk of, or experiencing homelessness.
  • Meaningfully involve young people with lived experience of homelessness, or who have been at risk of homelessness.

The deadline for applications is 7 May 2024 and more information is available here.

Keep Calm and Join Up!

RSN exists to enable the issues facing the rural areas of England to be identified, information and good practice to be shared and government to be challenged to address the needs and build on the opportunities which abound in rural areas.

If you know a rural housing organisation that would benefit from membership, please ask them to consider joining us. RSN is a solely rural focussed organisation with an electronic distribution network in excess of 20,000 individuals.  We reach right across all the rural areas of England and provide a sustained and respected voice for rural areas at national level.  Anyone who wants to talk to us about our role and services in relation to rural housing should contact Andy Dean to find out more.


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