Ministers plan huge rise in rural building

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The Independent Online

Thousands of subsidised houses for low-income families are to be built in villages and rural settlements around Britain in an expansion of building in the countryside to be announced by the Government within the next 10 days.

Thousands of subsidised houses for low-income families are to be built in villages and rural settlements around Britain in an expansion of building in the countryside to be announced by the Government within the next 10 days.

Ministers plan to double the number of subsidised houses built in villages and "small rural settlements", with a bigger increase insocial housing in market towns. Tory MPs have accused ministers of seeking to "suburbanise" rural England.

A leaked copy of the Rural White Paper, seen by The Independent, shows ministers will expect at least 2,500 "affordable homes" to be built in villages and hamlets each year.

Ministers are worried thatnew executive homes are being given planning permission in the country without regard for families on benefits or low incomes. The Government will ask local authorities in future only to grant permission for new homes in villages if a subsidised home is also built. The paper says: "There is a particular problem in small rural settlements, where often all the new housing has recently been executive homes that local people cannot afford to buy."

The expansion in low-cost housing will be achieved by giving local authorities the discretion to decide whether to build on prime agricultural land that farmers are not allowed to develop. It will provoke opposition from those in the country who fear it could destroy the character of villages and lead to low-income families moving from cities into the countryside.

Tory MPs question whether schools, shops and sewage systems can cope with the increases. Julian Brazier, MP for Canterbury, said: "There is a genuine case for a certain amount of social housing for people who genuinely work and live in rural areas. But this is on a vastly larger scale. It will suburbanise much of rural Britain."

The paper blames rural local authorities for resisting social housing, leading to "unbalanced communities". "There is a shortage of affordable housing in many rural towns and villages, which can create exclusivity with unbalanced communities and deny local people the chance to acquire a home," a draft copy says.

Ministers plan to provide an additional £50m this year to pay for affordable homes, followed by an extra £872m for building new social housing in rural and urban areas. The money will go to the government-funded Housing Corporation, housing associations and other social landlords.

To ensure families from towns do not gain priority over rural people, some houses will only be made available to people in the areas. Villages will be able to make land protected from development available for affordable housing for locals.

Ministers fear that people who have been given subsidised homes in pretty villages or rural areas of outstanding natural beauty may exercise their right to buy and sell them for a profit to people wanting second homes or moving to the countryside. The Government plans to restrict the resale of subsidised houses in small villages, and to allow social landlords "to require resale only to someone who has lived or worked locally for at least three years".

"In some rural areas, a significant number of houses are used as second homes, empty for much of the year, thus increasing the pressure on the existing housing stock," the document says.

Ministers will also require new developments to blend in with the local building style so villages are not disfigured."There is often resistance to new housing in villages because of the fear it will be insensitively designed," the White Paper says.

Rural local authorities will be expected to build more council homes in villages, using extra central government funds. The funding, "together with the judicious use of planning powers, should bring an additional 1,000 or so affordable social homes annually to small rural settlements - ie, a total of 2,500 [a year] by 2003-04", the paper says.

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