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

The 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.

Kerry Booth, Chief Executive, Rural Services Network

The insights from the research on the critical issue of affordable housing in rural areas underscore a vital point we've emphasised through our 'Winning The Rural Vote' campaign. Ensuring our rural communities have access to affordable housing is paramount, reflecting our broader calls for action to listen, understand, and support the unique needs of these areas. This alignment highlights the necessity of our ongoing advocacy for rural services and the importance of incorporating these considerations into the political agenda for truly sustainable rural communities.



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