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PLANNERS THREATEN RURAL LIFE

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Villages hit by sustainability policy, says commission...
Villages hit by sustainability policy, says commission

By Mark Smulian

Villages are under threat because regional planners have misinterpreted sustainability policy.

That is the conclusion of the government-appointed Affordable Rural Housing Commission. It has called for an urgent review of regional spatial strategies - used to decide where building will be concentrated - to combat the problem.

Regions have interpreted sustainability policy as concentrating new housing in towns to reduce commuting and protect landscapes. But that has cut rural allocations so low councils are unable to secure enough affordable homes to enable young people to remain in villages, claims the commission.

It said its inquiry had 'revealed an acute shortage of affordable housing in [all] rural areas'. Its concerns echo those of rural councils that villages will become non-viable without new homes (LGC, 30 March).

The inquiry report says: 'The interpretation of sustainable development within the planning system has often worked against the interests of smaller rural communities. There has been an assumption that,

because [they] have already lost some of their services, they are intrinsically unsustainable and are therefore not suitable for affordable housing.'

This limits housing supply which, combined with wealthy people moving in, drives prices above local residents' means.

It says: 'Without more affordable housing, those on lower incomes will increasingly be excluded from living in many parts of the countryside.'

Someone who earned£17,000 a year could buy a home in half of urban areas but in only 28% of rural ones, the commission found.

It says 11,000 affordable homes a year should be provided for villages with fewer than 10,000 residents.

Councils could make substantial inroads on housing need by adopting best practice, the commission adds, noting successes achieved by councillors and officers who had acted with 'passion and energy'.

The commission also calls for a£5m expansion of the scheme for rural housing enablers, who put affordable housing deals together.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper said: 'The report makes clear that we need more homes to help families in rural areas and to sustain local communities.'

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