A new report launched this week by University College London (UCL) and English Rural, a leading rural housing association, has explored the use of rural exception sites. The CLA has long argued that rural exception sites (sites not allocated in a local plan but brought forward for affordable housing) could go some way to solving the rural housing crisis.
In fact, the CLA has been a fierce supporter of rural exception site policy since its introduction in 1991. Yet, over the last three decades, the use of these types of developments has been limited with few local authorities enabling delivery of rural homes in this way. The report notes that only 14 of 91 rural authorities delivered homes on rural exception sites in 2016/17, and 37% of homes delivered on rural exception sites were in Cornwall.
The CLA was interviewed by researchers for the report, and we noted that the lack of rural exception sites being brought forward is often a result of a lack of information about their deliverability and usefulness in meeting housing need. Others interviewed for the report identified similar issues.
Success for rural exception site delivery lies in good collaboration between affordable housing providers, parish councils, planning authorities, and local communities. Often one key segment of this collaboration is missing. It is, therefore, the role of Rural Housing Enablers to act as a liaison between all parties, one key part of their role being to explain the benefits of a rural exception site.
The research specifically highlights the importance of landowners in bringing forward land for development. Interestingly, it notes difficulty for affordable housing providers to agree a price for land with landowners, with cross-subsidised market housing often not sufficient to meet aspirations of value. The report explores other incentives which can be offered to landowners, such as a retained serviced plot.
The purpose of the report is to offer recommendations which, if enacted, would make rural exception sites a more prominent way of delivering rural housing across all rural authorities. The recommendations include:
- Getting good information to parish councils – including by supplying every parish council with information about how the rural exception site policy works in their area.
- Understanding what makes rural exception sites different.
- Qualifying landowner incentives – Specifically bringing together a taskforce to develop guidance on possible incentives.
- Better use of Rural Exception Sites through a national programme.
- Promoting ‘good design’.
The CLA’s view
The CLA agrees with these recommendations, and they align with a number of our own lobbying objectives. In particular, we have long campaigned for rural exception sites to have a stronger status nationally so that there is less variation across authority areas.