The 5-star plan for rural housing
Affordable homes are critical to sustain rural communities – but Hastoe Housing Associations currently estimates that just one in 10 rural homes can be considered affordable compared to one in five in urban areas. That’s why CIH is supporting the new 5-star plan for rural housing, driven by the Rural Housing Alliance. Chairman Martin Collett tells us more.
The affordable housing crisis facing the countryside is not a new problem. For many years the Chartered Institute of Housing along with others has sought to highlight the unique concerns affecting rural communities, where social housing stock levels are low and the affordability ratio often extreme. The fact that we need more affordable rural homes is generally undisputed, even by those who argue for an increasing preservation of villages. But delivery still remains stubbornly and disproportionately less when compared to urban areas. Rather than being proactively enabled as a valid part of the solution to the housing crisis, affordable rural developments are often a bonus element to urban-focused housing supply plans. As a sector, many affordable housing providers continue to under-resource rural investment, even when they are important stakeholders within rural communities.
The recently launched 5-star plan for rural housing aims to change this by setting out a succinct and collective ambition to increase the delivery of affordable rural homes. The challenge to housing associations and their partners is to secure an even-handed deal for rural communities - leveraging in a fair share of public grant and private investment to increase the supply by six per cent each year for the next five years. It’s an ambitious plan, but has secured widespread support from rural advocates and housing providers. This positive response reflects the consultative development process of the ambition, which involved a series of regional rural roadshow events across England. Principally driven by the Rural Housing Alliance, the plan looks set to become a pivotal shared sector goal for the next five years.
If the ambitions of the 5-star plan are to be achieved, housing professionals need to effect cultural change within the sector. We need to make sure that affordable rural housing provision features fairly in the solutions developed and be confident enough to challenge when it does not. We need to question development programmes funded by housing providers that omit rural delivery and encourage local planning authorities to insist on a reasonable rural emphasis where there is a clear appetite from the village communities they serve for some affordable homes. In my experience there is almost always a demand within these communities and meeting this demand achieves significant social and economic gains. Arguably the inconvenient truth is that to serve the communities where we operate we have to face the challenges of rural development and fairly commit to investing in these communities in a proportionate way. If we are to tackle the bigger housing questions, it is also impossible to see solutions in isolation - whether they are rural or urban, each has a crucial and interreacting role to play.
As an uncompromising rural advocate and one of the architects of the 5-star plan I will admit to being slightly biased. I am though also practical and recognise that if the ambitions of the plan are to be achieved then the important role played by those already committed to rural housing must be complemented by investment from those that are not, but who have an undeniable rural profile.
I have never heard anyone claim that delivering affordable rural homes is easy, neither that it secures the scale and efficiency of urban-focused programmes, but there is a strong principled argument that it is vitally important. The biggest challenge is to take advantage of the planning flexibilities that now exist to deliver these rural homes without detriment to delivery aspirations elsewhere. With the increased innovation coming from the sector this seems entirely possible - some great examples of what has been achieved can be seen on the Rural Housing Alliance website.
Your support could make a real difference, so if you want to play a role in the tackling the rural housing crisis sign up today.