How can rural communities survive if new affordable homes are simply not being built?

From: Stephen Hardy, CPRE Sussex Trustee, George Close, Robertsbridge

Very often, the housing crisis is talked about as an urban issue. The truth is that housing is in deep crisis in our own area. The fact that, using 2017 statistics, Rother’s house prices are 117 per cent of the national average, but the average wage here is only 84 per cent of the national average, demonstrates clearly the affordability crisis in housing in Rother.

Across much of rural England and here in Rother, communities are being eroded by an acute lack of low cost rented homes. Affordable homes can help secure the future of our rural communities. Just a handful of new properties can make the difference between a primary school being forced to close and one which goes on welcoming new pupils or a pub being closed and one which remains a hub for the local community.

There are a number of key barriers to the delivery of affordable homes in rural areas, but the main one is the Government’s decision to define ‘affordable rent’ as up to 80 per cent of market rates, a level which is simply not affordable for many low-paid rural workers.

It is certainly not the democratic planning process, nor protecting our precious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which should be blamed. It is not our planners who cause the problem: councils granted 321,000 permissions for homes in financial year 2016/17, and only 183,000 were built. So it is clearly developers and house builders who are not playing their part.

We need stronger measures to reconnect rural rents and incomes, and to encourage land to come forward more cheaply. Government shows an inability to persuade developers and the planning system to deliver the right homes in the right places, so it is vital that communities are empowered to push for the kind of development they want and need.

CPRE Sussex believe that we can build the homes that people need and preserve the green spaces they benefit from. We must protect the countryside and enhance it, by promoting the right kind of development in the places where it is needed most. Putting more trust in Neighbourhood Plans by our local councils will help enormously.

In Rother only two communities, Sedlescombe and Robertsbridge, have so far been able to produce their own Neighbourhood Plans.

We need many more and Rother Council can help here.

Only by pursuing these aims will we ensure our villages and market towns remain vibrant and thriving places for future generations to live and work.