Don’t swamp rural areas with cheaper homes warning

By Farnham Herald in Arts

GOVERNMENT proposals to increase the number of Starter Homes in the countryside by building on “rural exception sites”, have come under fire.

A 10-point plan to boost rural productivity produced by DEFRA notes a significant stumbling block is that homes in the countryside are in short supply and on average cost 6.7 per cent more than those in urban areas.

To combat the shortfall, the Government has promised to include a “significant contribution” to the 200,000 starter homes to be offered at a 20 per cent discount for first time buyers under the age of 40, it has committed to delivering in this Parliament.

Local authorities will be required to plan proactively for the delivery of Starter Homes and speed up the implementation of their Local Plans.

They will also have to take heed of neighbourhood plans produced by local communities, which allocate land for new homes including the use of rural exception sites to deliver Starter Homes.

A review into making it easier to convert agricultural buildings to residential homes will be conducted and a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements will be introduced to speed up negotiations with developers and allow building works to get under way more quickly.

Critics have objected that even with the discount, starter homes will still be unaffordable for the people most in need, who are working for low wages in the countryside.

They fear their chances of buying a house close to where they work will be reduced if they can be built on the rural exception sites usually used to build genuinely affordable social housing.

Rural Services Network chief executive Graham Biggs said: “Overall starter homes could play a useful role in rural areas, but Government should reconsider where they will be appropriate.

“They should be built on allocated sites - not exception sites. Exception sites are intended to be for housing that will remain affordable and for local needs, whereas starter homes can be sold on the open market after a few years.

“The need for affordable rented homes in rural communities is inescapable and must be a key part of implementing a productivity plan for rural communities.

“Providing starter homes at 80 per cent of market value could contribute to this need but they are highly likely to remain too expensive for most young people in rural areas, potentially defeating the stated purpose of the plan.

“Any new measures which undermine the delivery of affordable homes should be avoided, particularly where they enable homes to be sold at full market value after a few years.

“Local people and landowners need to be able to count on new homes being retained for people with a local connection and at an affordable price in perpetuity. If not, they will lose faith and not support further developments.”

Promoting the scheme, Communities Secretary Greg Clark said: “We’re determined to ensure anyone who works hard and aspires to own their own home has the opportunity to do so – whether they live in cities, towns or rural communities.

“But all too often young people find themselves exiled from the place they grew up.

“That’s why we’re putting power directly in the hands of rural councils to give the go-ahead for new starter homes in their area so local young first-time buyers can continue to be a vital part of their communities.”

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