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Tim Farron proposes cross-party bill to protect rural housing

September 9, 2014 10:19 AM

 “RURAL HOUSING CRISIS IS NOT ABOUT BUILDINGS, IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE” SAYS FARRON AT AFFORDABLE HOUSING EVENT A group of cross party MPs have today brought a bill, proposed by Tim Farron MP, before Parliament to protect rural housing communities from government proposals which risk drying up the supply of affordable homes in small communities.

The government is due to make an imminent decision on proposals to remove section 106 planning obligations, which deliver affordable homes, from sites of less than 10 homes. The measure aims to make it easier for small builders to build homes of any kind, but in rural areas this change could dramatically affect the supply of affordable homes.

A third of affordable homes in rural areas are delivered through these planning obligations on small sites. Currently, figures from the Department for Communities and local Government show that two thirds of affordable homes in rural areas came through S106 agreements, with the remaining third delivered through rural exception sites. As an estimated 80% of planning applications are from sites with fewer than 10 homes, a blanket removal of these obligations threatens to destroy a key plank of affordable housing supply in rural areas.

Tim's bill, which has the backing of five MPs from all parties, would give local authorities the decision on the most appropriate threshold, rather than central Government.

Commenting, Tim said: "If the government does not accept our bill, it will hurt rural communities as we seek to provide enough homes for local people of all ages. For rural areas like the South Lakes, what seems like an innocuous proposal from Westminster would in fact be ruinous. It's not just South Lakeland - in Cornwall, over half of all developments are on small sites. In Derbyshire it's 85%. In Harrogate, it's 100% since 2011. If you remove these obligations, you virtually cut off one of the two major routes which guarantees the supply of affordable homes in any rural area. You also risk affecting the other key mechanism - rural exception sites - because you increase the "hope value" of the land making it harder to guarantee a supply of land for these sites. This could ratchet up the price of land, which would even backfire back onto small builders while delivering windfall gains for speculative land traders. And finally there's the risk that developers will split larger sites split into smaller sites to exploit this new loophole that the Government is proposing to open.

It's hard to see how we can make the case for building homes, which we need, if central government takes away the ability to deliver homes that local people can afford. This needs a serious rethink before it backfires into higher house and land prices, priced up villages and dwindling hope for a generation that can't afford to get on the ladder."

Nick Harvey, MP for North Devon, added: "Small rural communities across North Devon will really suffer if this proposal gets the go-ahead.

"The average cost of a house in the area currently outstrips average annual wage 11 times over. Without the affordable housing that we so desperately need, families will either have to leave the area or risk falling into rural poverty.

"It is all very well trying to give developers more flexibility and stimulate the housing market, but this proposal has been concocted in a Whitehall office without a thought to the impact on rural communities. I am not against a minimum threshold, but the figure of 10 dwellings - which seems to have been plucked from thin air - is far too high.

"Removing the obligation for developers to build affordable housing will devastate an area like North Devon where it is in such short supply. We need action from the Government to increase the pool of affordable housing, not proposals to dry it up."