The effective delivery of rural exception sites

The CLA’s Avril Roberts explains what rural exception sites are and analyses new research on their effectiveness in delivering affordable housing

New research has been published recently by the Bartlett School of Planning, at University College London, about the factors which affect the delivery of rural exception sites. The CLA sat on the steering group for this research and welcomes its publication and the potential for it to influence policy changes.

What is a rural exception site?

A rural exception site is a piece of land which is not included in a local development plan and would otherwise not be considered acceptable for housing, but because it meets a local affordable housing need, it can be put forward for housing development. Generally, these sites provide 100% affordable housing, although it is not uncommon for an element of market housing to be allowed to increase viability of the site. Rural exception sites can be any size, but it is usual for them to be relatively small sites of up to 15 homes.

Despite their potential to deliver much-needed rural affordable housing, only 17% of rural local planning authorities delivered rural exception sites in 2021/2022, meaning only 548 homes were delivered in this way.

What does the latest publication show?

The research was commissioned by the Rural Housing Network, which the CLA is a part of. Academics undertook a national survey of local planning authorities and collated six detailed case studies.

The research confirmed that budgetary pressures, recruitment challenges, and a lack of investment in skills, challenged local planning authorities’ ability to utilise the rural exception site policy. It also discovered that there is uncertainty and a lack of clarity on policy changes which affect planning officers, and that this can contribute to stressful working environments – nutrient neutrality and biodiversity net gain were given as examples of stressful policy changes.

However, the research also looked at positive examples of where local authorities are successfully delivering homes using rural exception site policy, in the hope of highlighting best practice.

Common factors between six local authorities delivering rural exception sites were:

  • Community engagement – In particular the research highlighted the importance of working with landowners.
  • The presence of a Rural Housing Enabler – A Rural Housing Enabler works independently from a local authority and helps bring sites forward. Where there is a Rural Housing Enabler, delivery on these sites is higher because of the expertise that they can bring.
  • Political support and guidance – Strong leadership from local government about the importance of rural affordable housing contributes to the delivery of rural exception sites.
  • Partnership working – Again, the research highlights the importance of working with landowners to reduce risk and smooth the delivery of rural exception sites.

What can we draw from this research?

Landowners can be the solution to delivering more rural exception sites, whether by selling land, or delivering new homes themselves.

The CLA’s Mission Two ‘Affordable Homes in Every Community’ recommends policy changes which would increase the delivery of rural exception sites. We will continue to contribute to research projects which highlight the challenges CLA members face in delivering rural affordable homes and use these examples to aid our lobbying.

Rural Powerhouse

Read mission two to the next government - Affordable Homes in Every Community

Key contact:

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Avril Roberts Senior Property and Business Policy Adviser, London