ACRE warns of new threat to affordable rural housing
by Claire McGine, Head of Communications

Rural communities will suffer if plans by the Government to introduce a threshold for the provision of affordable homes on new developments go ahead, ACRE has warned.

ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) says the proposals would lead to even fewer affordable homes being built in the countryside, where house prices have risen by 82pc in the past 10 years.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is consulting on the plans, which would see the introduction of a 10-unit threshold for Section 106 agreement developments.

“Affordable housing enables local people to remain in a community where they have families, schools and jobs."

A Section 106 agreement – otherwise known as a planning obligation – requires developers to provide contributions – such as affordable homes or playgrounds, for example – to offset negative impacts caused by construction and development.

This proposed change would mean that a developer would not need to provide affordable housing, or any other contribution, on sites of 10 houses or fewer.

ACRE, the national voice for England’s 38 rural community councils, says small-scale developers may simply stop building affordable homes if the changes go ahead.

ACRE Director of Policy & Research Nick Chase said: “A large proportion of the delivery of affordable housing in communities with a population under 3,000 is through Section 106 sites of 10 units or fewer.

“Figures from DCLG show that in 2012/13, 66pc (1,905) of homes in settlements under 3,000 were delivered through Section 106 agreements.

“Preventing this significant number of affordable homes being developed each year would be highly detrimental to smaller rural communities.

“Our ACRE Network member in Dorset, for example, says that almost 90pc of rural developments in the county are for 10 units or fewer. Information from local authorities in Devon suggests the percentage of affordable homes on sites with fewer than 10 properties varies from around 5pc to 27pc of all homes built in a district.

“Although the figures sound low it is important to realise even a small number of affordable homes can make a huge difference to the long-term sustainability of a community.

“Affordable housing enables local people to remain in a community where they have families, schools and jobs. It allows people to return to communities where they grew up and it helps sustain local services, including schools and shops.

“If these changes go ahead, we expect to see small-scale developers only building housing at market prices to obtain the greatest profits.

“The view of ACRE is that a balance needs to be struck between incentivising development and having a fair affordable housing provision. There is an intense shortage of affordable homes across the UK and Government policies should ensure that more affordable homes are built, not fewer.

“The proposed change will not benefit rural communities and developers will be seen to be benefiting at the expense of the provision of affordable homes.

“We have warned DCLG that any reduction in the amount of affordable housing could destroy the historical demographic essence of many rural communities. We hope the Department thinks twice before making any changes.”

ACRE’s full response is now available.