Leading rural organisations are today expressing alarm about the damage the deal on ‘voluntary’ Right to Buy (RTB) proposals between the National Housing Federation and Government will do to rural communities.
The vast majority of housing associations have now voted for the deal that the National Housing Federation has negotiated with Government, but the rural organisations argue that it does not provide sufficient protections for rural communities. They are therefore calling for a full exemption from the Right to Buy scheme for rural areas, rather than only a discretion not to sell homes.
The CLA, Hastoe Housing Group, CPRE, the National Association of Local Councils, Action with Communities in Rural England, Lincolnshire Rural Housing Association, Exmoor National Park, the Rural Services Network and the National Parks Association are concerned that:
- rural affordable housing lost to the open market is not likely to be replaced,
- that a ‘portable discount’ alternative will not help rural areas, and
- that landowners will be reluctant to offer land for social housing if there are no guarantees it will remain affordable and not be sold on within a few years.
As the new ‘one for one’ replacement homes can be anywhere in the country, the fear is that these are likely to be built in urban areas where development is quicker and cheaper. The ‘portable discount’ alternative to Right to Buy can only be used to buy another housing association’s property so this will only exacerbate the dwindling supply of affordable housing in rural communities.
These proposals risk reducing the low levels of affordable housing in rural areas (8% compared with 20% in towns and cities) even further. Rural areas also have lower average wages and higher house prices than urban areas – and the gap between average rural wages and house prices is growing.
Without a comprehensive and well defined rural exemption, this measure will make it harder to sustain mixed rural communities and local services such as shops and pubs.
CLA Chief Surveyor Andrew Shirley said: “The housing situation in rural areas is already critical. Extending Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants in rural areas will reduce the already small number of affordable properties already available whilst deterring more land coming forward for new rural housing schemes.
“Many rural landowners have made a considerable investment in their community by making available potential housing land to Housing Associations, at a considerable undervalue, for the purpose of delivering affordable housing for local people. However with the Right to Buy there is little incentive for landowners to keep doing so, if these properties will only be reverted to open market housing under the Right to Buy.”
Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “Many councils across the country struggle as a result of the non-replacement of council homes sold over the past 30 years. All these have been lost to the rented sector and some may now be second homes or holiday lets.
“The backbone of village life is the mix of people living there. Does the Government want to foster living, socially mixed rural communities? This is the test. It must adopt a proper, up-to-date definition of ‘rural’ and it must introduce a full exemption for rural communities from the right to buy. Otherwise we risk making rural living the exclusive preserve of those who can afford expensive market housing.”
Sue Chalkley, chief executive of Hastoe, England’s leading specialist rural housing association, said: “We have been working for years with many rural communities and landowners about new affordable housing and many are now asking us to hold off. They fear this lack of a rural exemption will lead to a loss of their homes to the private sector in a very short period of time and are writing to their MPs. It is important that the rural voice continues to be heard and our concerns addressed.”