INDUSTRY COMMENT – CLA Housing Summit – How rural landowners can play their part in solving the rural housing crisis

By Rob Hindle, Executive Director

This week’s CLA Housing Summit provided a great forum to discuss the challenges with rural housing.

The latest survey from the CLA of its members, shows that nearly two thirds of rural landowners are keen to add to the stock of new housing in rural areas across England and Wales. It also found sadly, that many who would like to do so are primarily put off by the costs and risks associated with the planning process. Of those expressing reservations, 59% cited planning issues as the key factor.

At Rural Solutions, we recognise the challenges implicit in any planning application, but we are pleased to inform landowners that from our point of view as a firm dealing exclusively with rural planning applications, the chances of success for a well thought out and sustainable scheme are actually quite high.

The reality is that national planning policy has never been as enabling for sustainable rural development, whether for economic, community or residential purposes as it is in 2017. The challenges that applicants face, and we are only too aware of the breadth and depth of them, arise from the application of national policy in local areas, rather than the policy itself.

Many local authorities have embraced the objectives and principles set out to enable sustainable rural development in national policy within their Local Plans. Where this is the case, or where local authorities are yet to adopt new Local Plans, rural landowners can be confident that a well thought through and presented case for new housing of appropriate scale and design will be successful.

In situations where local authorities have adopted Local Plans that are more protective of countryside, or on sites within areas protected or constrained by national landscape environmental or policy designations (such as Green Belt), then opportunities will be fewer, but the potential for smaller schemes designed to enable the delivery of affordable housing will remain.

The CLA survey also shows us that many landowners are keenly interested in enabling the delivery of affordable housing for local people. It was good to hear this view echoed by delegates to the CLA Rural Housing Summit where the over-arching view seemed to be that access to land and the ability to take a ‘long’ and holistic view on investment returns meant that the development of new affordable homes, without reliance on government subsidy, can be financially viable.

As ever, the key to success is preparation, together with, and I make no bones about this, the willingness to do the job (of the application and its promotion with local people) properly.

Our experience shows that an application for a rural housing scheme will disproportionately increase its chance of success if the applicant can:

  • Explain clearly why they want to build the houses;
  • Show that what they want to do responds to and is closely aligned with the local context (social, economic and environmental)
  • Invest in the necessary technical design to work out how this can be best achieved (taking account of the specific physical context and characteristics of the site); and
  • Invest in the time and resources needed but only once an early ‘draft’ of the proposal is sufficiently well worked up to give people a clear idea of what is proposed.

A careful, professional and sensitive approach to these four pillars will pay dividends.

Finally, it is worth acknowledging the fact that a rural landowner is also a member of the local community meaning that they may often be viewed more favourable than perhaps other types of developers and this local viewpoint will only stand to add weight to the proposal.

The Rural Solutions team are experts at securing consent for rural housing development. Contact us to find out more.

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