On rural housing

The BBC have been running a series of articles recently on housing issues. Today’s article is particularly good and deals with the issue of rural housing and, in particular, social housing and the sustainability of communities. It is by Moira Constable, chief executive of the Rural Housing Trust.

As someone who has spent a large chunk of my life living in small to medium sized villages, this is an issue about which I feel strongly. I particularly like the way that Constable highlights the fact that social housing actually does much to preserve those aspects of rural life that attract the wealthy (a village pub, cricket team, local shop, etc.). I really hate it when small villages are preserved in aspic – they become ghettoes of the wealthy. My parents live near the village of Slindon, much of which is owned by the National Trust. The NT has done much to try and preserve the village in a timewarp, with very little new development and tight restrictions on alteration of existing properties. There aren’t even any overhead cables or phonelines – everything like that must be hidden from view. The consequence, in my view, is that the village, whilst pretty, is now so expensive that no local person could afford to buy property there. I’m sure the average age of the population must be increasing significantly, year-on-year. A few years ago, the village shop and post office closed because it was no longer profitable – it has now been bought and is operated by the village residents as a non-profit organisation because the services it provides are so vital to the community.

I’m not saying that these villages need massive new housing developments. As the article says, sensitive and small developments are more in keeping with their environment and can still provide the sort of housing that is needed. But it is no only rented or shared-ownership housing that is needed, in my view, but also modestly-priced housing on the open market. All too often, due to pressure from parish and district councils and the profit-driven motives of the developers, four and five bedroom homes only are built in small developments whilst smaller houses only appear in the large (usually fairly unpleasant) developments on the edge of town (which are often just as remote from amenities and services as rural communities). Perhaps there should be tax incentives to landowners to develop one and two bedroom flats and cottages, which is exactly what used to be built when landowners had to provide housing for their workers before public social housing came along.

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