Is there a future for rural living?

This green and pleasant land... doesn't come cheap. Despite the recession, sales of second homes are pricing young families out of the countryside. Graham Norwood hears how rural communities are fighting back

The country life may have its benefits – from green fields to peace and quiet – but affordable housing clearly isn't one of them. Now though, rural communities are battling to unite self-builders, councils and local residents to save villages from becoming theme parks for the wealthy.

Countryside homes are practically unaffordable on the average rural or agricultural salary. And according to a survey by estate agents Savills, are 51 per cent more expensive than similar properties in urban areas.

So in the south west a typical house in a city or town costs £208,744 while its rural equivalent is a whopping £311,237. In the Home Counties an average home costs £257,284 in towns but soars to £417,186 outside. Most startling is the West Midlands where an urban house costs £163,462 but in the country is 80 per cent more at£293,708.

"The problem is worse than this because so many homes in the country are very large," explains Lucien Cook, head of Savills' research. "So even if the price per square foot appears affordable, the overall sizes make them too expensive."

The issue will be highlighted tomorrow when Dr Stuart Burgess, the Rural Advocate – an independent watchdog on countryside affairs – presents his two-yearly report to Gordon Brown. It is expected to say that the cost of housing is a chief cause of the outflow of young people, jobs and facilities from villages.

Data compiled by the Commission for Rural Communities, which supports the Rural Advocate, shows over 350,000 new rural households being created every five years as young people leave home and newcomers move in to the countryside. This outstrips even the most optimistic growth in new homes being built.

Meanwhile the number of second homes in the countryside grew by 1,500 in 2008/9 in England alone, despite the recession being in full flow at the time. Separate research by estate agent Knight Frank shows that in parts of Britain the glut of second homes has driven up prices by as much as 130 per cent.

Just 13 per cent of the housing stock in the countryside is classified as social housing – low cost to buy or rent from housing associations – while in urban areas it is 22 per cent. Council houses account for just 4 per cent of rural stock, well under half the urban total.

But it does not have to be this way, as some rural communities are demonstrating. Community Land Trusts are non-profit-making bodies creating low cost homes and keeping them for local people in perpetuity. They exist across the country but are most common in Cornwall, which has finished CLT homes in the villages of Rock and Blisland, nearing completion at The Lizard and in preparation at eight other locations. They secure sites at peppercorn rents from local farmers or councils, then organise local housing associations or self-builders to construct homes with covenants stopping them being sold to outsiders or used for private renting.

"Many farmers recognise the need for homes for locals so sell land cheaply" says Alan Fox, who co-ordinates Cornwall's CLTs. Many of the sites have already been designated by councils as 'rural exceptions' – agricultural or redundant plots where homes may be built on a not-for-profit basis for locals.

This approach works. Two-bedroom CLT homes at Blisland village sold to local familes at £101,763 each – in an area where £250,000 is the norm – and three bed houses were £122,115. They are high quality, too, with ground source heat pumps providing underfloor central heating, wood burning stoves, double glazed timber windows, real slate roofs and sills, and excellent space standards.

These "rural exception" sites can be the key to providing cheap countryside homes. Most parish and district councils identify such sites on plans and have officers called Rural Housing Enablers (RHEs) who help community groups use the sites to encourage low-cost homes – but they usually insist on existing residents initiating the process.

The route advocated by RHEs for interested local residents is to firstly establish a need for affordable housing by surveying local incomes and private housing costs. Then they should identify nearby rural exception sites and secure the support of other residents for new homes – this is often the toughest job, as existing home owners in small communities often cherish the exclusivity of their villages. Finally the local RHE then consults housing associations, which make decisions on where to build future homes for low-cost sale or rent.

"It's a long process, bureaucratic and with plenty of form-filling. The hardest part is not dealing with the authorities but persuading local people to accept the need. It was a long haul but the RHE steered us through the process and the housing association eventually built 14 homes," says Jan Hunter, who campaigned for affordable Cotswolds homes.

Housing associations persuaded to build in rural locations then usually rent out their properties – often to families on council waiting lists – or sell them via one of the government's many shared ownership schemes. For example the Hastoe association, which specialises in rural housing, has one bed homes near Glastonbury in Dorset for £107,500, or via shared ownership with buyers getting a mortgage for 50 per cent of the price and then "topping up" with a monthly rent and service charge.

Yet it is not through housing associations let alone big-name developers that the rural homes shortage may be addressed in future. The Conservatives want a huge growth in the number of self-builders, as happens across much of Europe. "Across the country self-builders are creating affordable homes in the places where young families struggle with sky-high house prices," says Tory housing spokesman Grant Shapps.

He insists this is not mere electioneering. Councils will survey families wishing to self-build, then be obliged to allocate land to "kick-start this rural housing revolution".

Even if this happens the first new homes will not appear for some years – by which time, the Rural Advocate believes, the crisis will be even worse.



The Commission for Rural Communities report appears tomorrow on www.ruralcommunities.gov.uk; more details on Community Land Trusts are at www.communitylandtrust.org.uk.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own