A spotlight of our work focussing on rural housing


A quarterly bulletin facilitated by your membership of the Rural Services Network highlighting a selection of current rural housing issues and opportunities

A focus for rural housing

Housing is consistently rated as one of the top challenges facing rural communities across the country.  The Rural Services Network is keen to provide an opportunity for its members to channel their concerns, highlight good practice and share thoughts on this critical area.  This quarterly Rural Housing Spotlight is one mechanism for doing just that.  We are keen to receive your feedback and any contributions from members to future editions will be gratefully received.  The deadline for the December Spotlight will be the end of November.  Please contact Andy Dean to discuss any proposals or feedback you may have.

Rural Housing Alliance to partner with RSN
Adrian Maunders, Chair, Rural Housing Alliance and Chief Executive, English Rural Housing Association
The Rural Housing Alliance, a group of affordable rural housing providers from across England, is to partner with the Rural Services Network to create a national advocacy forum for affordable rural housing.  Working together the partnership will seek to achieve the shared objectives of promoting the development and good management of affordable rural homes. 
More details on the Rural Alliance can be found at http://www.housing.org.uk/policy/rural-housing/rural-alliance-pledge/

An unintended consequence – bedroom deduction savings vs housing local people
Martin Collett, Operations Director, English Rural Housing Association
Those of us involved in rural housing have historically taken a longer term view to the practical occupation of developments, seeking to address both current and future housing needs, whilst recognising that in many instances new affordable homes may be the only ones a village will see for a generation or longer.  This approach has necessarily resulted in fewer smaller homes being built, particularly one bedroom properties.  A flexible approach to allocations, allowing less than full occupancy in favour of local connection has ensured that up to now, local households have been able to access a home in their community.  The mantra of rural housing providers has been to work in partnership with the community to build accommodation that benefits the current and future needs; ‘localism’ in action before the brand became fashionable.

As a consequence of this historical approach and the impact of recent welfare reform changes which penalise this pragmatic method, many rural households are now experiencing financial pressures that force them to consider moving.  The key issue being that unlike urban areas, affordable housing is extremely scarce in rural communities and smaller homes scarcer still.  Households affected by the problem are faced with a stark choice, to wrench themselves from their home, community and support network or experience financial hardship that is compounded by the high cost of accessing rural services.  This policy is also undermining the original purpose of the planning consent (usually granted as an ‘exception’ to normal practice).

In July 2013 the Rural Communities Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recognised this issue, recommending that Government make rural communities with populations of less than 3,000 exempt from the current under-occupancy deductions applied under welfare reform changes.  Agreeing to this recommendation would align national policy with the approach taken to Right to Buy, where rural areas are also exempt for comparable reasons.  Given the lower levels of affordable housing that exists in rural areas and the trend for reduced benefit dependency, the cost impact of agreeing to this recommendation would be minimal to savings anticipated through welfare reform, but ensure that households living in affordable rural homes continue to add significant value back to their local communities.

All Party Parliamentary Group – influence in Westminster
RSN runs an APPG for rural services.  This provides an excellent opportunity to put issues of the moment in front of MPs in the heart of Westminster and to seek to influence national debate.  The next housing APPG takes place on 12 November 2013 and will highlight the issues facing rural communities in the light of welfare reforms, under-occupancy conditions and the increasing difficulty in housing local people.  If you would like to contribute please contact Andy Dean for more information as soon as possible.

Shropshire highlights the plight of young people
Shropshire Housing Group’s new Chief Executive, Jake Berriman is adding his backing to the efforts of local Charities in Ludlow to shine a light on the pressing issues affecting vulnerable children, young families, and the homeless youth of Shropshire. The Ludlow community is coming together to support Ludlow Rotary Club’s biggest charity event of the year, Ludlow Cares. Jake and other hardy volunteers are going to sleep rough in the shadow of Ludlow Castle for one night on 20th September. The Ludlow Rotary Club will use proceeds from the event to support a variety of housing and children centred charities including the Ludlow Foyer, a local housing project for young people run by Shropshire Housing Group, and the Ludlow Food Bank.

‘The pressures and issues faced by young people are very important to us as an organisation’ said Mr Berriman. ‘It is increasingly difficult for younger people to afford to access housing, particularly purchasing their first home. Over 55% of people registered on our waiting list as of August 2013 are looking for one bedroom accommodation which given our rural nature is in scarce supply. This shortage is contributing to an outward migration of younger people from Shropshire with a sharp decline of younger people expected in some areas over forthcoming years and with those who stay becoming increasingly marginalised without support.  We are key supporters of Ludlow Foyer, which works with young people who are starting their adult life and provides those who need it with a place to stay. We are also working very closely with organisations like Young Shropshire in Work to find and fund training opportunities and work placements for young people taking their first steps into employment and towards independent living.  It is often not appreciated that young and vulnerable people living in rural areas are affected by the same issues as city youngsters as it is always the problems of our larger towns and cities that make the headlines. Our chocolate box image and perception of rural tranquillity mask issues of isolation, rough sleeping and homelessness arising in our smaller rural towns to the point where they can become almost invisible. Unfortunately, projects like the Foyer alone cannot solve the issues that are faced by too many of our young people and I am pleased to join the tremendous effort being made by Ludlow Rotarians to highlight the problems and raise funds to help alleviate them.’
For more information on the Ludlow Cares sleepout go to http://ludlowcares.org/

CIH and RSN working together
CIH and RSN are working in partnership to deliver more support for our members working in rural housing delivery and management. Our first survey of members in 2012 highlighted again the great difference that local people can make in the ability to deliver more rural housing. As a response to that, we developed a short focused guide with top tips and help for professionals on how to work effectively with rural communities.
This is available at http://www.cih.co.uk/howtobriefings

Rural Housing Conference – 25 September, Exeter
Rural Housing in a Challenging Environment is the title of a conference taking place in Exeter on 25 September and organised by the Chartered Institute of Housing in partnership with the Rural Services Network.
•    Hear updates from the HCA about its contribution to delivering affordable rural housing and plans for the future
•    Discuss and debate the latest initiatives in relation to housing and the rural economy
•    Learn innovative solutions to the current challenges in rural housing from credible housing practitioners
•    Discover how to work effectively with local communities so that more homes that are affordable for local people can be built
•    Take advantage of an excellent opportunity to network with fellow housing professionals and be involved in interactive discussions
Follow the link below to find out more and book a place:

Hastoe’s new straw bales housing scheme officially opened
A development of four affordable ‘straw bale’ Hastoe homes in High Ongar, Essex, is being officially opened by Eric Pickles MP on 13 September. This is the first development of straw bale housing built in Britain by a housing association.
Hastoe has been filming the build process and will release time-lapse footage and interviews with the key people involved to share knowledge within the industry.

Two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom houses have been developed by Hastoe Housing Association at Millfield in partnership with Epping Forest District Council, on former Council-owned land. The houses have been let at affordable rents to families on the Council’s housing register.

The land was transferred to Hastoe at a discounted price, and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) contributed a grant of £92,000. The properties were designed by architects, Parsons + Whittley, and constructed by DCH, a local contractor based in Coggeshall. The straw bales used were a sustainable by-product of farming and the bales were sourced from a local farm - Williams Brothers.

There are a number of benefits of using straw bales within housing. Whilst the costs of construction are similar to costs of conventional construction, houses built using straw bales need almost no conventional heating due to their exceptionally high insulating properties. The residents will benefit from fuel costs around 85% cheaper than the average costs for heating similar homes of traditional construction.

Structural parts of the houses, such as the walls, have been built using timber frames, in-filled with the straw bales. The walls have been covered externally, with a lime render. The character of straw bales houses suits the rural location of the site at Millfield, overlooking farmers’ fields. With clay tile roofs the houses incorporate mainly natural materials and have a slightly rustic quality, although overall they will have the appearance of conventional homes. The timber porches are roofed with sedum plants.

Since the straw absorbs carbon dioxide as it is growing, it is widely accepted that buildings of this type of construction have a low, zero or even negative carbon footprint. When complete, the high level of energy efficiency will reduce CO2 emissions by around 60%, compared to conventionally-built homes.

Tests on other straw bale structures by the University of Bath have established that they are strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds up to 120mph - enough to defy the huff and puff of any big bad wolf! They also have a fire rating at least double the requirements of Building Regulations.

Councillor Maggie McEwen, the Council’s Housing Portfolio Holder said:
“We are very pleased that the first straw bale houses in the country built by a housing association will be in the Epping Forest District, and that the Council has played such an important part in the success of the project so far. The reduced fuel costs will be an enormous help for families on low incomes, and we are very pleased to be at the forefront of such an eco-friendly scheme.”

Hastoe’s Chief Executive, Sue Chalkley, said:
“We look forward to welcoming Eric Pickles to officially open the High Ongar straw bales scheme as this is an exemplar project. Hastoe is committed to providing affordable housing in rural areas for the benefit of local people.
“Sustainability is a key part of our approach and this is mirrored by Epping Forest District Council’s drive for highly energy efficient homes. We have been through an extensive design and planning process to ensure that the new homes will be a real benefit to the community.”
For more information please contact: Leila Moss on 020 8973 0437 or lmoss@hastoe.com

How much do you know about community-led housing?
Catherine Harrington, National CLT Network
As the nation heads back to school, supplied with enthusiasm and new stationery, community-led housing delivery is moving up the ranks to sit at the top of the class. This autumn, we will be celebrating 5 years since a group of funders came together as the CLT Fund to support the development of new Community Land Trusts. These volunteer-led organisations are changing the future of housing in their communities, providing permanently affordable homes, a long-term financial investment in their neighbourhood and a solid, cohesive infrastructure of people who know how to work together for the good of their local area.

There are now over 150 CLTs in England and the time is ripe to find out more. This September make space in your diary to find out what happens when localism takes off. Visit Keswick Community Housing Trust at their Site Open Days on 17 and 18 September. Then join the National CLT Network in Ely on 25 September for the East of England CLT conference. You’ll be hearing from top speakers from DCLG, community organisations and the HCA on how to inspire communities to take the lead in providing affordable housing. More details are available on the National CLT Network website.

What’s more, there is money out there to help. Before Easter the Housing Minister announced that the rules governing funding for the Community Right to Build were to be relaxed, making it available for CLTs and other groups using a variety of different development routes. The £17 million Community Led Project Support Funding is now available and open to applications. The CLT network’s guidance note gives tips on how to apply.
If you want to hear more about next steps or to see it with your own eyes, the National CLT Network is here to help. For more information contact catherine.harrington@housing.org.uk, http://www.communitylandtrusts.org.uk/

Housing Standards Review
The housing standards review was launched in October 2012 following the housing and construction Red Tape Challenge, which was introduced in spring 2012.
It was a fundamental review of the building regulations framework and voluntary housing standards which aimed to rationalise the large number of codes, standards, rules, regulations and guidance that affect the house building process.
The review was undertaken by a wide range of cross sectoral stakeholder working groups and the government has recently published a consultation document which sets out their proposals on:
  • accessibility
  • energy
  • space indoor
  • environmental standards
  • security
  • materials
  • water efficiency
  • process and compliance
You can comment on these proposals during the consultation period which closes on 22 October 2013.


A View of Rural Housing

A regular discussion feature – always thoughtful, often provocative

Jo.Lavis, Director Rural Housing Solutions

Please don’t stop reading.  I promise this article is not one acronym after another, unintelligible to other than the anoraks like me.  Neither, is it promoting delivery by equation.  It is a call for action, it is about making sure rural proofing becomes more than lip service, it is about securing resources for rural affordable homes.
Those housing associations and local authorities trying to put together a development programme for post 2015 must have been relieved when the Spending Review (SR) (Spending Round 2013 – HM Treasury https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/spending-round-2013 ) announced a number of measures to deliver affordable housing.  I wonder how long the cheers lasted for those working in rural areas?  I suspect not very long.
Let us raise a small cheer for £3.3 billion for a 2016 – 18/19 Affordable Homes Programme. But tempered by the Minister also requiring ‘something for something’ in the form of more ‘conversions’ from social to affordable rent, Registered Providers putting in more of their own resources; use of re-investment of Right to Buy receipts; oh and a further cut in grant rates from £22k to £18k.  So at what point did CLG or Defra collect evidence on the impact of the 2011-15 funding arrangements on rural delivery?  When did they monitor the impact on the finances of those smaller RPs who are still committed to building in villages?  When did a Government Department monitor the rate of Right to Buy sales against replacement in rural communities?
Do we cheer for the £2 billion awarded to the Single Local Growth Fund administered through the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), of which £400m will be funded from pooled New Homes Bonus (NHB)?  Was this informed by the findings of research by Inside Housing that identified that 60% of local authorities were putting all their NHB into the General Fund?  A consequence of needing to maintain their core budgets in the face of cuts to their wider funding.  And just how many LEPs include members from organisations that deliver affordable housing, whether district councils or RPs? As worrying, how many have so far paid more than lip service to housing or recognised the need for economic development in rural areas beyond large food and farming businesses?  At what point will the evidence given to the EFRA Select Committee that lack of affordable housing is a barrier to business growth in rural areas feed into their strategies?  Recently, I had the task of finding this needle in the haystack and eventually found one!  Sussex Coast to Capital LEP has recognised this link and agreed to contribute funding to set up an Umbrella Community Land Trust.  This success was very much down to the fact that Sussex ACRE has been part of the LEP’s discussions from the start, building a rural into their thinking and ensuing strategy.  Dare I say rural proofing at a local level.
A month after the SR the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee published its report on the work of Defra and its Rural Communities Policy Unit (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – sixth report July 2013-08-12 http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/news/rural-communities-report1/). Turn to its housing recommendations and what do we find?   A request for a greater proportion of the £3.3 billion for the 2016 – 18 AHP be spent in rural areas.  A call to the Rural Communities Policy Unit to monitor the impact of the affordable rent model, Right to Buy sales and New Homes Bonus.  Should I summon the picture of a stable door closing as the horse runs off down the road?
Coinciding with the Select Committee report came the publication of Defra’s “ Guide to Rural Proofing: National Guidelines” (Guide to Rural Proofing: National guidance – Defra, July 2013-08-12
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223687/pb14005-rural-proofing-guidelines130710.pdf ).  Helpfully it states that rural proofing is a requirement set down in the Treasury’s Green Book and of government departments as they prepare policy.  The guidance shows rural proofing as a process that should take place during the preparation, implementation and review of policy. Its purpose to be a means of “assessing policy options to be sure we get the fairest solutions in rural areas.”  So I cannot but help ask, what rural proofing went into the Spending Review?
It is not an impossible task.  The NPPF is good example of what can be achieved when rural proofing helps shape policy.  And thank goodness for the eagle eyed civil servant that helped secure the exemption of rural exception sites from the provisions in the Growth and Regeneration Act for the re-negotiation of affordable housing on stalled sites.
But on housing matters perhaps it is now down to us.  There is possibly still time to improve the Spending Review outcomes for rural areas. The distribution of the £3.3 billion is not yet publicly confirmed. There may still be room to build in grant rates that are responsive to the economics of developing rural affordable homes.   So present that evidence to your councillors and MPs, send that letter to the Minister.
To adapt a quote from Francois Hollande, “what the residents of rural areas want, is coherence, stability and justice”.  So my plea: let effective rural proofing begin within national government, now not later.

Jo.Lavis has over 25 years experience of rural affordable housing.  She is currently Director of Rural Housing Solutions, a consultancy that works with Local Authorities and Registered Providers across the country to improve the supply of rural affordable housing.  Jo.Lavis64@gmail.com    www.ruralhousingsolutions.co.uk


Our Sponsors:

The Rural Service Network's Rural Housing Service

The RSN has developed a comprehensive Rural Housing Service. This service includes:

A partnership with Chartered Institute of Housing
We have established a rural housing partnership with the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) - combining forces to maximise the benefits for our members working in rural housing management and delivery (for more information click here).

Rural Housing Activities
The Rural Services Network is involved a large range of  activities relating to rural housing (for more information click here).

Rural Housing Objectives
In a period of sustained austerity, rural areas are at most risk as resources become focused on easier solutions where larger numbers of people live (for more information click here).

What can the RSN do for you?

If you haven’t checked out the RSN website recently, it is worth a look.

Rural news, observatory information, an archive of recent CRC publications and best practice information are all available.  Take a look at http://www.rsnonline.org.uk/

Keep Calm and Join Up!

The RSN exists to enable the issues facing the rural areas of England to be identified, information and good practice to be shared and government to be challenged to address the needs and build on the opportunities which abound in rural areas.

If you know a rural housing organisation that would benefit from membership, please ask them to consider joining us.  The RSN is a solely rural focussed organisation with an electronic distribution network in excess of 40,000 individuals.  We reach right across all the rural areas of England and provide a sustained and respected voice for rural areas at national level.  Anyone who wants to talk to us about our role and services in relation to rural housing should contact Andy Dean to find out more.

Analysis of Second Homes in Rural Communities

Second home ownership in rural communities continues to be a hotly debated subject, bringing with it arguments from both sides.

To help inform the debate, the RSN has undertaken analysis which allows the user to interrogate data taken from the Calculation of Council Tax Base for Formula Grant Purposes CTB (Department for Communities and Local Government, October 2012) to better appreciate their local authority’s position in terms of proportion of dwellings being second homes and their relative position against similar local authorities around England.

This analysis can be found by clicking here

Fairer Funding for Rural Areas

There are only 2 weeks to go to help your local area receive the funding it needs to provide services to your rural communities.

We are currently supporting the Fairer Funding Campaign, a petition that aims to secure fairer funding for rural local authorities in England.

All you need to do is sign the petition and send the petition back to Graham Stuart MP's office at the House of Commons by 30th September.

We know that everyone is experiencing cuts at the moment but rural areas have been underfunded for a long time. Urban areas receive 50% more support per head than rural areas despite higher costs in rural service delivery, help us to give rural areas a voice and re-address the balance.
For more information please click here

My Council

For each local authority that is a member of the Rural Services Network - Sparse grouping we provide a dedicated page.

These pages include lots of facts and figures and analysis focussing on that local area.
To view these pages click here.

Rural Health Network

A new Rural Health Network has been established which will enable health professionals to better share best practice, share learning about delivering high quality services to rural communities and engaging effectively with them.

The Network will also enable a regular interface on rural health issues with policy and decision makers at the highest levels via the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services for which the Rural Services Network acts as the secretariat.

There will be a second Rural Health Network conference in Devon on 18 October 2013 held at the Exeter Chiefs Rugby Club and Conference Centre, Sandy Park, Exeter.  Themes for this year’s conference include tele-medicine and tele-diagnostics, rural broadband, rural proofing and resourcing.

Click here for more information.

What's new

Neighbourhood Planning analysis

A successful neighbourhood plan must be based on evidence and an understanding of the place they relate to. Communities need to gather a range of evidence and local knowledge before writing their plan.

The Rural Services Network will have collated a selection of evidence, which may be useful to communities in starting to shape their evidence base. This information can be found here.

Coming Soon.....

Your Observatory

This is a new service provided by the Rural Services Network, if you are a local authority and would like some analysis of information / evidence to support decisions making or policy development, and the data source covers all english authorities, we may be able to provide an analysis to suit your needs.

Please contact us to discuss any requirements that you may have.  The analysis would be made available through our website for all of our member authorities.
The Rural Services Network is an organisation comprising over 100 local authorities and 120 other public service providers seeking to establish links across public service, identifying and broadcasting best practise, and making representations on rural service issues. For details please go to our website www.rsnonline.org.uk
If you would like to find out more about the Rural Services Network please visit our website www.rsnonline.org.uk.  If you would like to join please contact us on 01822 813641.