Low rural rents 'put at risk'

Public Policy Editor

A leading British housing expert yesterday called on the Government to drop its plans to give housing association tenants a new right to buy in rural areas.

The call from Richard Best, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a rural development commissioner, came as he unveiled a Civic Trust award for five homes built in the Lake District two years ago. The Home Housing Association, which built them warned that low-rent homes may prove impossible to provide in future if the right-to-buy proposals go ahead.

The association said it built 12 affordable homes in Rosthwaite, Cumbria, in the Fifties. Eleven have since been bought by tenants under the Eighties right to buy, with some making large profits from selling them on or opening them for bed-and-breakfast or holiday lets.

Alan Kilburn, the association's chief executive, said that with tough restrictions on new house building in the National Park, landlords will become increasingly reluctant to provide land for social housing if they see the homes being sold on and others profiting.

Alison Blair, the association's spokeswoman, said the homes were needed for local people. "People work on the land or in tourism and cannot afford the high house prices and rents that people from outside the Lake District can pay. In the season, rents in Rosthwaite are about pounds 350 a week, while our rents are pounds 47 a week."

To build the new houses the association had to have special planning agreement from the National Park Authority. The land was sold to the association at one-third below its market value because permission to build would only be granted for the social housing scheme.

Mr Best said: "In future, landowners may well be unwilling to make sites available . . . and planners less willing to provide consent, if there is a chance the homes will be lost."

Exempting small schemes of less than a dozen homes in settlements of less than 3,000 people would solve the problem, and it would cover only a few hundred homes out of the 55,000 for which the new "voluntary purchase grant" was intended, he said.