Government is ‘letting rural communities down’, says CLA

New report shows desperate need for sustainable, small-scale housing developments
Rural new-build affordable home

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has called on the Government to overhaul its approach to housing in rural communities. The approach laid out in the CLA’s latest Rural Powerhouse report will help tackle the housing crisis in villages, where homes are becoming increasingly unaffordable to local people.

The CLA’s report, entitled 'Sustainable Communities: the role of housing in strengthening the rural economy', highlights the transformative economic and social benefits small-scale developments could bring to rural communities. Government needs to develop an approach that allows for a small number of homes to be built in a large number of villages. This will support local employment and strengthen the social fabric of these areas by ensuring pubs, shops and schools can stay open.

However, this style of organic, incremental growth will only be possible if supported by a more accommodating planning framework.

Under the current system, large-scale developments which negatively alter the nature of local communities are favoured over more modest proposals.

The call comes after Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove opted not to proceed with reforms of the cumbersome and complicated planning system, leaving the Government short of its housebuilding targets. After four Housing Secretaries in as many years, it is time the Government took housebuilding seriously.

The report shows[1] that in 2020 over 260,000 people in rural areas were on a housing waiting list. If the rural planning system was reformed to allow for small-scale developments, the Government could see this figure significantly reduced.

The rigid planning system means housebuilding cannot keep up with population demand, further draining the countryside of its young people and workforce. Even after the pandemic-fuelled surge of interest in rural homes, this lag in housebuilding is seeing the rural economy continue to fall behind.

The paper sets out five clear changes to the planning system. These include:

1) Smaller number of houses in a larger number of villages – return to a National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) promoting organic, incremental growth in settlements with fewer than 3,000 residents.

2) Reform local authority sustainability assessments – change assessments to ensure they are more reflective of the services that could be supported if development were enabled, and give more weight to digital connectivity.

3) Mandatory housing needs assessments across all rural settlements – Undertake housing need assessments for settlements that have not previously been allocated housing, in addition to those that already have, to ensure need is properly identified and met.

4) Extension of permitted development rights – allow permitted development on rural exception sites to provide much-needed affordable rental housing options for the benefit of local communities.

5) Inheritance tax exemptions – extend conditional IHT exemptions to affordable rented housing for the period in which homes remain let as such.

For rural areas to thrive, there needs to be an adequate, available, and diverse supply of homes...without it, we prevent young families from continuing to live in their community.

Mark Tufnell

Mark Tufnell, President of the CLA, commented:

“Fundamental flaws in today’s planning system are letting rural communities down. For too long, its unnecessary red tape has held back the initiation of projects, stifling investment, innovation and entrepreneurship in the countryside.

We are disappointed to see the Government U-turn on previous promises to simplify the planning framework. The housing crisis has not gone away, and this marks yet another missed opportunity to bring prosperity to rural areas. If the Government is serious about meeting its housebuilding targets this must change.

For rural areas to thrive, there needs to be an adequate, available, and diverse supply of homes, which includes different tenure types of varying sizes. Without it, we prevent young families from continuing to live in their community, key workers from being based near their places of work, and the elderly from downsizing.

Viable solutions are available. We call on the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to listen to the changing needs of rural communities and deliver on his ‘levelling up’ promises. We must make meaningful changes to our planning system – beginning with making policy changes to allow a greater number of small-scale developments across our villages. Only the Government has the necessary policy levers at its fingertips to action this, and reverse decades of settlements being held in aspic.”

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Key contact:

Jonathan Roberts
Jonathan Roberts Director of External Affairs, London