Bath & North East Somerset Council is highlighting the crucial role that affordable housing plays in helping to maintain small rural communities during Rural Housing Week, held between 1st-5th July.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says villages in England are facing a hidden crisis with the lack of affordable homes having a devastating impact on the social fabric of rural life.
The CPRE says the average age in rural communities is rising as young people and families are priced out of their local area and forced to move away and, as a consequence, many local services are struggling to survive.
Bath & North East Somerset Council says it recognises that the provision of affordable housing to meet local needs is essential for social sustainability in rural communities, and is working with housing associations and developers to deliver new affordable homes across the district, but recognises more needs to be done to meet demand in rural areas.
Councillor Tim Ball, cabinet member for Housing, Planning and Economic Development, said: “We want to see more affordable and social housing provided in rural communities to help maintain a living, working countryside.
“Schemes like the recently completed Dilly Meadows development in West Harptree can make a real difference.
“LiveWest Housing Association have taken delivery of five new social rent homes there, including one designed specifically for a wheelchair user.
“All the properties are let to people with local connections in the Chew Valley and the social rent level of a new three bed house on the development is £137 pounds a week plus a £10 service charge.
“It’s providing an affordable option for local people, but more developments like this are needed in rural areas across Bath & North East Somerset to ensure these communities continue to thrive.”
The council is also keen to promote innovative solutions to rural housing problems and recently provided financial support to a project in Chew Stoke, with a grant of £150,000 to carry out essential repairs to a Grade Two listed former Rectory in the village.
The building, which is divided into flats, had been run by a co-operative housing association, but following management difficulties its future and that of its tenants was in doubt.
English Rural Housing Association took over the property securing the long-term future of the building for residents, unlocking substantial investment to carry out repairs and improve existing homes, as well as securing the units as a long term affordable housing supply for the Chew Valley.
Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural, said: “Communities need people and people need homes. Giving people a place to call home that is affordable, safe and secure provides the stability they need to prosper in their local community. Social housing can do just that.”
Levels of affordable housing need in the district’s rural areas significantly exceed supply.
West Harptree and Chew Stoke fall within the Chew Valley Neighbourhood Plan area, along with five other parishes including Chew Magna and East Harptree.
55 households currently express a particular preference on the council’s Homesearch Register to live in one of these seven parishes, yet only 13 homes became available for letting in 2018/19, including the five new homes at Dilly Meadows.
Interest in these 13 homes was high, with an average of 80 applicants applying for each one. The highest expressed need is in Chew Magna, where 18 Homesearch applicants have indicated a need to live in the parish, but no homes have become available in the last year.
The council secures affordable housing on rural developments of 10 or more homes. This is how the five homes at Dilly Meadows have been delivered, as well as previous delivery of rural affordable homes at Freshford, Farmborough and Bathampton in recent years.
The greatest potential scope to meet housing need comes through the use of the Council’s Rural Exceptions policy. If parish councils, residents or landowners in the district’s villages are interested in finding out how to drive the delivery of much needed rural affordable homes they can contact the Council’s Enabling and Development Team on 01225 477937 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
People who live or work in Bath and North East Somerset and have a household income of under £60,000 can register for social rent homes or low-cost home ownership via Homesearch.
Rural affordable homes are prioritised to people living or working in the parish and applicants are encouraged to demonstrate their local connection to a parish by making a First Choice preference on their application.
For more information visit: www.homesearchbathnes.org.uk.
Appointments can also be made with the Housing Options Team by calling: 01225 396296