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Shortage of affordable rural housing having “severe” consequences

Shortages of affordable homes in rural areas are having severe consequences, members of the Devon Housing Commission have warned.

The Chair of the Commission has written to Lord Richard Benyon, Minister for Rural Affairs, to warn the county’s housing crisis is “deeply affecting the local economy” and leading to a dramatic increase in the use of temporary accommodation.

Lord Richard Best told Lord Benyon there are growing numbers of people in insecure and unsatisfactory housing and this is leading to ever-rising costs for local authorities.

The Devon Housing Commission has been assembled by all the local authorities in Devon to find solutions to the county’s acute housing problems and is supported by the University of Exeter. Commissioners are developing recommendations to start to address broken housing markets.

The letter reminds Lord Benyon that across Devon the average home costs more than ten times the average income; in some rural areas this ratio rises to twenty-eight times the average income.

Lord Best said: “The acute shortage of any accommodation to buy or rent for those on or below average earnings is having severe consequences. Apart from the hardship to families, it is deeply affecting the local economy. It is also leading to a dramatic increase in the need for temporary accommodation, with ever-rising costs to local authorities and a growing population living in insecure, unsatisfactory housing.”

The Commission is keen for Government to ensure more homes for local people by deploying the Defra “Rural Housing Enablers” policy in Devon to identify sites, work with landowners, liaise with councils and consult with the local community and parish councils,

In the letter to the Minister, Lord Best stressed the urgency of Government support for Rural Housing Enablers in Devon. Lord Beynon has now announced that funding has been allocated to Devon Communities Together to provide an expanded Rural Housing Enabler service for Devon. The Commission hopes Lord Beynon will now work with ministerial colleagues in other Government departments to develop further measures to support rural areas in Devon.

The majority of Devon’s local authorities are classed as predominantly rural and the percentage of people in Devon who live in a settlement with a population of fewer than 10,000 is twice that of England as a whole. The delivery of affordable rural homes in Devon has declined since the loss of the previous Rural Housing Enabling service from over 200 homes in 2017/18 to only 91 in 2021/2022.

Lord Best said: “Small village developments can make an immense difference to the life of the community. Without funding associated with schemes like Rural Housing Enablers for a reasonable term it can be hard to recruit and retain the talented people required to fill important roles in Devon’s workforce.  But with these Enablers in place, real progress can be made in getting attractive, sustainable, affordable homes built for local people.”

Commissioners are hoping the forthcoming revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework will encourage more development for local people in Devon.

They also support government plans to moderate the growth of Airbnb-style short-term lettings replacing rented accommodation for local people.