Future of rural affordable homes

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Minister urged to protect future of rural affordable homes

Housing minister Brandon Lewis has been urged to protect small rural communities from Government proposals which could drastically cut the development of new affordable homes.

Cheshire Community Action is backing the plea by its national body ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), which has written to the Minister to outline its objections.

The charity says the planned changes to policy will threaten the future of communities in the countryside, where house prices have risen by 82% in the past 10 years.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is consulting on its proposals to remove section 106 planning obligations, which deliver affordable housing, from sites of fewer than 10 homes.

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.

The charity is calling on the Minister to exempt all sites in communities with a population under 3,000.

Cheshire Community Action Chief Operating Officer, Mark Reading said: "Figures from DCLG show that in 2012/13, 66% (1,905) of homes in settlements under 3,000 were delivered through Section 106 agreements.

"Clearly, the proposed changes would preventing a significant number of affordable homes being developed each year. This would have a profoundly damaging effect on small, rural communities — threatening their long-term sustainability.

"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, businesses and shops.

"If these changes go ahead, we expect to see developers only building housing at market prices to obtain the greatest profits. There is a major shortage of affordable homes across the UK and Government policies should ensure that more are built, not fewer."

ACRE chief executive Janice Banks said: "We are calling on DCLG to make an exception for communities with a population under 3,000. This would give the Minister the opportunity to deliver a policy that works for the right reasons in the right communities whilst avoiding serious damage to affordable housing delivery in small, rural communities."

Ms Banks said a cross-party bill, which would give local authorities the decision on the most appropriate threshold, was not the answer.

She said: "While we agree that DCLG's proposals don't take any local conditions into account, leaving the decision with local authorities will simply result in a postcode lottery. An exemption for small communities is the fairest solution."