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Affordable rural housing

Rural communities denied affordable housing as developers exploit loophole
New affordable houses in the rural Peak District

Housing developers are using a legal loophole to dodge building affordable homes across the countryside, according to data analysed together for the first time by Shelter and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The research is released ahead of a speech on Monday 05 March by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, when he is expected to outline reforms to national planning rules.

The loophole

‘Affordable Housing’ officially refers, in general, to social rented, affordable rented or shared ownership homes. Local planning rules can specify what proportion of these tenures should be provided, and the precise amount on each scheme is negotiated between the developer and the local authority.

Developers use ‘viability assessments’ to argue that building affordable homes could reduce their profits to below around 20%, which gives them the right to cut their affordable housing quota.

It means developers are over-paying for land and recouping the costs by squeezing the affordable housing commitments – a tactic often used by developers building big housing schemes.

An urban and rural issue

Looking at eight rural councils over one year, the analysis shows that half the affordable homes that councils were required to build were lost when viability assessments were used.

The research found that, on schemes where viability assessments were used 1,966 of the homes were meant to be affordable, according to the housing policies set by the local authority.

As a result of the viability assessments, only 1,028 of these homes were subsequently affordable. This is a loss of 938 affordable homes that could have been built, equivalent to 48%.

According to the researchers, this demonstrates that the housing crisis is not just confined to our cities, but is having a serious impact in the countryside as well.

‘A lack of affordable housing is often seen as an urban problem, with issues of affordability in rural areas overlooked. It cannot be ignored any longer. Too much of our countryside is eaten up for developments that boost profits, but don’t meet local housing needs because of the ‘viability’ loophole.

CPRE is calling for urgent action from the government to close the loophole to increase the delivery of affordable housing, otherwise rural communities risk losing the young families and workers which they need to be sustainable.’

Campaign to Protect Rural England’s chief executive

Overpowering local communities

The new figures come months after Shelter carried out similar research on housing lost to viability assessments in urban areas. The findings, from November 2017, showed that 79% affordable homes were lost in nine cities across England through viability assessments.

Together, the research paints a national picture of the affordable housing drought right across the country.

‘With this new research, we can see for the first time the true scale of our housing crisis – it’s not just blighting cities but our towns and villages too.

‘Developers are using this legal loophole to overpower local communities and are refusing to build the affordable homes they need.

‘The government should use their current review of planning laws to close this loophole and give local communities the homes they really need. This process must act as a critical turning point in the government’s attitude towards affordable housing in this country.’

Shelter’s chief executive

Shelter and CPRE are calling on the government to use their current review of planning rules to stop developers from using this loophole to wriggle out of providing the affordable homes that communities desperately need.

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