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Housing crisis poses threat to survival of rural communities

A shortage of affordable housing poses a threat to the survival of rural communities, reveals a report published today by CPRE.
Roger Mortlock courtesy CPRE

Unraveling a crisis: the state of rural affordable housing in England sets out the causes of the problem, lays bare its impact on real people and explains what the next government can do to fix it.

Record house prices, stagnating wages, huge waiting lists for social housing, and a proliferation of second homes and short-term lets are driving people out of the communities they know and love.

The countryside, where levels of homelessness have leapt 40% in just five years, is being drained of skills, economic activity and vital public services.

There is an extreme disparity between rural house prices, which are higher than those in other parts of the country, and rural wages, which are much lower. House prices in the countryside increased at close to twice the rate of those in urban areas in the five years to 2022. While the average cost of a home jumped 29% and is now £419,000, rural earnings increased by just 19% to a total of £25,600.

More than 300,000 people are on waiting lists for social rented housing in rural England, an increase of just over 10% since 2018. At the current rate of construction, it would take 89 years for everyone on a waiting list to be offered a home. Current planning policies allow for the building of new ‘affordable’ housing costing anything up to 80% of market value. This means that in many rural areas the ‘affordable homes’ being provided are often anything but.

Local authorities have not replaced social housing at the rate properties have been sold under the Right to Buy policy, leading to a chronic shortage of housing for people who need it most.

In Cornwall, where more than 15,000 families are on social housing waiting lists, the number of properties for short-term let, (at much higher prices than social rents, grew by 661% in the five years to 2021. Half of the families on social housing waiting lists in South Lakeland could be accommodated in local properties available exclusively as holiday rentals, while Devon has seen 4,000 homes taken off the private rental market and 11,000 new short-term listings since 2016.

The government has legal powers to protect council housing purchased under the Right to Buy scheme from being sold off at market rates or as second homes. Our research is the first published study to look at the overall coverage of these so-called

‘Section 157’ powers. We found that these powers only apply to half of all rural parishes in England. They exclude whole counties such as Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, and also large towns. There are several large towns, particularly places like Cirencester, Frome, Padstow, Sherborne and St Ives in south west England, where there is a particular lack of affordable housing.

The report contains a list of recommendations that CPRE believes will help to solve the severe housing crisis in the countryside. It includes calls for the next government to:

  • Ensure the term ‘affordable housing’ is redefined to directly link to average local incomes
  • Increase the minimum amount of genuinely affordable housing required by national planning policy and implement ambitious targets for the construction of social rented homes.
  • Support local communities to deliver small-scale developments of genuinely affordable housing and make it easier for councils to purchase land at a reasonable price, enabling the construction of social housing and vital infrastructure.
  • Introduce a register of second homes and short-term lets, with new powers for local authorities to levy additional council tax on second homes.
  • Extend restrictions on the resale of ‘affordable housing’ to all parishes with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants to ensure properties continue to be used by local workers, not as second homes or holiday lets.

CPRE Chief Executive Roger Mortlock said: “Decades of inaction have led to an affordable housing crisis that is ripping the soul from our rural communities. Solutions do exist and the next government must set and deliver ambitious targets for new, genuinely affordable and social rented rural housing, curbing the boom of second homes and short-term lets.

“Record house prices and huge waiting lists for social housing are driving people out of rural communities, contributing to soaring levels of often hidden rural homelessness. Urgent change is required to ensure we don’t end up with rural communities that are pricing out the very people needed to keep them vibrant.”