A spotlight of our work focussing on rural housing


A quarterly bulletin facilitated by your membership of the Rural Services Network, produced in partnership with the Rural Housing Alliance, 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 produced in partnership with the Rural Housing Alliance, a group of affordable rural housing providers from across England, 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 March 2014 Spotlight will be the end of February.  Please contact Andy Dean to discuss any proposals or feedback you may have.

Diary Date - National Rural Housing Seminar
The new partnership between the Rural Services Network and Rural Housing Alliance will be officially launched at a National Affordable Rural Housing Seminar on 21st February 2014.  The seminar is being organised to bring together national interest groups and organisations involved in affordable rural housing and will be hosted in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with a line up of high profile speakers and decision makers.  Anyone interested in finding out more about the event should look out for more details to follow in due course.

MPs hear plea for more rural areas to be exempt from the Bedroom Tax
In November, the Rural Services All Party Parliamentary Group in Westminster heard direct from members of the Rural Housing Alliance of the real difficulties presented by the imposition of under-occupancy deductions.  Aside from the financial and emotional issues associated with the policy, the simple fact is that there is a stark lack of alternative accommodation options for people living in many rural areas.  Larger homes have been encouraged to be built in the past to provide flexibility and sustainability and this is not an approach which can be turned around overnight.

DWP have already accepted that people living in remote and isolated communities are compromised in their response to the removal of the spare room subsidy and allocated Discretionary Housing Payment accordingly.  21 local authorities will benefit, including 6 district councils in England (DWP Housing Bulletin July 2013).
However, the same issue exists in many more rural areas.

Rural Housing Alliance members have supported the recommendation made in the summer by the Environment Food & Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee that all settlements below 3000 population should be exempt from the policy.  This would provide a more consistent and less arbitrary mechanism for ensuring the particular issues associated with rural areas are addressed in a fair manner and would be fully in line with exemptions that already exist in relation to Right to Acquire policy.  Let us know if you have any further evidence on the impact of the Bedroom Tax in rural areas.

Oxfordshire Rural Housing Partnership celebrates 500th new home
Representatives from local councils and housing associations in Oxfordshire came together at an annual rural housing conference to celebrate the completion of the 500th new affordable home in the region and to hear about the need for more.

The 500th home was completed on Sovereign Housing Association’s latest rural development at Oxford Close, in Kingston Bagpuize, consisting of eight affordable homes for local people, two of which were made available to purchase through shared ownership.   The conference was hosted by one of the country’s most successful housing partnerships, the Oxfordshire Rural Housing Partnership (ORHP), on Wednesday 20 November.

Andrew Smith, Chair of the ORHP and Executive Director (Place) of GreenSquare Group opened the conference with a brief history of the ORHP while stressing the need for more affordable housing in rural communities. Andrew said, “73% of country dwellers recognise that young people and families are being priced out of our rural communities. To ensure we maintain vibrant and sustainable villages we are going to have to ensure that we work together as communities to deliver good quality, well designed, affordable rural housing.”

He also highlighted the fact that the average home in the rural south east costs 14 times the average income, compared to 11.5 times in urban areas. While nine in ten people living in the countryside wish to stay there compared to two in ten wishing to stay in urban areas, of those in the 30-45 year old age bracket who had moved away, many are returning to back to their roots.

Sovereign is one of the founding members of the ORHP which was formed in 2003, and is now made up of six housing associations, four district councils and the Oxfordshire Rural Community Council.  For further information about the work of the ORHP please visit www.orhp.org.uk

Youth Hub in Shropshire is go!
Young people in the countryside often have a lack of social activities to get involved in. Market town, Cleobury Mortimer, has been given a fresh focus for youth activity with the opening of a new Youth Hub.

Shropshire Housing Group partnered with a host of community organisations, have given Cleobury Mortimer a new facility that officially opened in November and offers a variety of attractions, including a smoothie bar, pool table, games and music, plus open mic events and discos throughout the month.  The new project will open its doors every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday after school, based in the town's Methodist Hall.

The scheme has been led by the popular Saint Mary's Youth Project, which has already been providing a programme of support and activities for children and young people in the rural community, including a pre-school breakfast club.  The costs of setting up the initiative have been supported by an array of organisations, including Shropshire Housing Group, which provided support from its Resident Involvement Team and funded and fitted a new kitchen.
Sarah Platt, Resident Involvement Manager for Shropshire Housing Group, said: “This project is a beacon for what can be achieved when communities work together. We were delighted to play our part and we hope that hundreds of young people will see positive benefits from The Hub. We have already experienced some improvement in engagement with young people in the area”

Saint Mary's Youth Project leader, Mark Greaves, said: “We now have a hub for young people, whatever their backgrounds or interests, to get together on a regular basis. They can socialise, get to know new people, receive help and encouragement with their homework and access new opportunities to take part in activities that might not otherwise have opened up for them. The support to help us achieve this from across the community has been tremendous and we want to thank all of the individuals and organisations who have pulled together to make this happen. I know the young people of Cleobury Mortimer will thank them too.”

Shropshire Housing Group has recently signed off its Greater Neighbour Strategy which includes a place based approach to improve local communities which should result in even more community focus and support for local projects.
For more information contact mark@beboldpr.com

South Somerset one of the best!
South Somerset continues to be one of the highest performing Districts in the South West for the production of new affordable housing.  By the end of March 2014, almost 1500 new affordable homes will have been produced over a six year period. Just over a fifth of these were new homes to rent or buy on a shared ownership basis in rural areas, where the population of the parish is 3,000 or less. Almost £54 million of central Government funding has been deployed by the Homes and Communities Agency, together with District Council subsidy consisting of land and just over £3 million in cash grants.

The majority of new homes, over 850, will have been built by Yarlington, the locally based housing association created by the Council 14 years ago, including almost 350 replacement properties for concrete system-built homes deemed to be un-mortgagable or failing to meet the Decent Homes standard. This summer sees the last of such former council estates rebuilt. Seven other Housing Associations account for almost all the rest, with both Raglan and Jephson producing over 150 each.

The production of new homes is offset by a steadily rising number of people in high need of affordable housing and demand continues to outstrip supply many times over.  While for the first time in more than a decade there are currently no homeless families or single people in Bed & Breakfast accommodation in South Somerset, the spectre of the misery that goes with families in Bed & Breakfast is never far away.

Leader of the Council Ric Pallister said, “I am very proud of the performance of the District Council and its development partners in continuing to deliver record numbers of new homes during difficult economic times. For a long time we’ve been running up the down escalator, trying to keep pace with emerging need and whilst the team have done an absolutely brilliant job in preventing homelessness, I remain very cautious about the future and the numbers of families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet and may yet be forced to seek our help and advice”
For more information contact Mary.Ostler@southsomerset.gov.uk

Affordable homes vital to thriving rural economies in the East Midlands
The Rural Network East Midlands (part of the national Rural Forum structure) held its annual conference on 22nd November in Melton Mowbray. The day included a strong debate on affordable rural housing and how delivery could be increased, involving presentations by the HCA, CPRE, a key rural authority in the region and planning consultants.  The need for more affordable housing in the rural areas of the region was clearly recognised and supported backed up by good practice doing just that.  This will require delivery in partnership with a key role for local authorities particularly with regard to ensuring such provision is a strategic priority and securing resources.

Craig Felts of Midlands Rural Housing said “There was general consensus that the debate needed to be pushed, and the arguments reinforced in order to ensure investment in the rural areas remains a priority.  It was positive that despite the wide ranging issues and concerns affecting rural areas, the provision of affordable housing is seen as vital to delivering thriving rural economies. This message came through strongly as part of the wider debate on the day”
For more information contact Craig.Felts@midlandsrh.org.uk

All Party Parliamentary Group – influence in Westminster
The Rural Services APPG supported by RSN 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 APPG has agreed to receive regular statistical updates on rural housing issues.  These updates will need to be very focussed and concise in order to achieve maximum impact.  If you have any views on which statistics should best be utilised please let Andy Dean know as soon as possible.

See Hastoe’s new straw bales housing scheme online
Hastoe has just released exclusive time-lapse footage of the build process of four new ‘straw bales’ homes in High Ongar, Essex. The aim of the film is to share knowledge within the industry and showcase the build process of a housing development which uses straw as insulation.  The film, produced by 7video, features two sets of time-lapse footage, interviews with key people involved and the new residents.

High Ongar is the first development of straw bale housing built in Britain by a housing association and was officially opened by Eric Pickles MP in September. The two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom houses were developed by Hastoe Housing Association in partnership with Epping Forest District Council. The houses have been let at affordable rents to families on the Council’s housing register. 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, residents will benefit from lower fuel costs than for heating similar homes of traditional construction. Structural parts of the houses, such as the walls, were built using timber frames, in-filled with the straw bales. The walls were 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 natural materials and have a slightly rustic quality, although overall they 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 carbon footprint. 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.

Hastoe’s Business Development Director, Kevin Hartnett, said: “We are delighted with this film which captures the build process of the High Ongar houses as exclusive time-lapse footage. This is completely unique footage which we believe will be very useful for sharing learning with others in the sector. The High Ongar project is an exemplar and we are pleased to showcase this within the film.”
Click here to watch the film or for more information please contact lmoss@hastoe.com

Chartered Institute of Housing 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 joint 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
Next on the partnership agenda with CIH are a summary of bedroom tax research and impacts in rural communities and a focus on rural responses to the increasingly ageing population.

Time to say Yes to Homes
John Pierce, Campaign Manager at the National Housing Federation John.Pierce@housing.org.uk
We are in the middle of a housing shortage that shows little sign of abating. House prices have risen to the point where an entire generation is struggling to afford a home.  In the countryside, homes are more expensive than in cities and towns, and often beyond the means of local people. The solution to this problem is simple. We need to build more homes.

Unfortunately, one of the major blockages is vocal opposition to new housing. All too often, the people in need of new homes are often missing from the local debate. They may not have the time to get involved or understand how to have their voice heard locally.

Luckily, local people have an advocate right on their doorstep to help them to be heard, yes, their local councillors.  The Federation believe councillors and councils are perfectly placed to help people who support new homes to have their voice heard and to balance the local debate about housing in your communities.  Councils and councillors can organise Housing Hearings to create the opportunity for people who support new homes to speak out for themselves. Councillors can also investigate why there is local opposition to new homes and find ways to alleviate those concerns.

Ultimately, we aim to bring the family who are locked out of owning their own home, the person struggling to pay their rising rent, the faith group that wants to see people have a decent home, and the community group that wants their village to have a future, together to say Yes to Homes.  Only this will create the political space to help politicians to get on and deliver the homes that are so desperately needed.  To find out more visit the website www.yestohomes.co.uk

Funding for community led projects
A £14 million revenue funding programme is available through the HCA which helps communities to achieve their development ambitions for their local area. The fund will provide revenue funding to help community groups to build their capacity to either submit a Community Right to Build order, which is an alternative way for communities to deliver the development they want – be it homes, shops, businesses or facilities – where the benefits of the development will be retained by the community for the community, or to apply for planning permission.
Communities interested in applying for support have the choice of applying for funding through two different routes:
•    Community Right to Build – provides support for community groups who want to submit an application for a Community Right to Build Order as an alternative to achieving planning permission by submitting an application for planning permission.
•    Planning Application Route – provides support for community groups seeking to achieve planning permission through a planning application.
The programme will remain open to receive new applications until funding is fully committed (or until end of March 2015, whichever occurs first).  It is unlikely that new applications received after October 2014 will be able to be funded.  For more information visit the website:

National Empty Homes Loan Fund
The NEHLF is a new loans fund that enables people to borrow the funds necessary to get empty homes back into use.  It will provide loans of up to £15,000 to owners of empty properties to help bring them back into affordable use.
The £3 million NEHLF fund will provide secured loans and will enable owners to renovate the property to the Decent Homes standard.  This is a joint initiative between the charity Empty Homes, Ecology Building Society, central government and 41 participating local authorities.

Community Cashback initiative
The Community Cashback initiative run by the National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations, gives support for tenant groups who want to help improve their area by being paid for managing local services that the landlord would usually buy in. This could include cutting grass, cleaning and looking after shared spaces and repairs of empty properties. By providing the service cheaper, any savings made by the landlord are kept by the tenants to spend on local improvements or community benefits. The Starter grants can be used to pay for essential items to get the Community Cashback scheme set up. This may include advice for the group, training on things like managing money and contracts, set-up costs for the tenant group in order to run the agreement, visits to other groups and projects, and equipment and materials for the tenant group.  Up to £3000 is available and applications can be submitted at any time.  For more information visit:

Cautious welcome for Autumn Statement from local authorities
Local authority leaders have given a cautious welcome to measures outlined in the government's Autumn Statement.  The government claims measures contained in the statement will ensure local authorities have the funding and powers needed to drive the economy forward.  It says the measures will provide stability for councils to keep down council tax, secure a £1bn investment in housebuilding and cut unnecessary planning processes.
Click here to read more.


A View of Rural Housing

A regular discussion feature – always thoughtful, often provocative

Creating housing choices for life: homes for older people and the rural challenge
Sarah Davies, Chartered Institute of Housing
We have known for some time that we are an ageing population, but it is receiving significant attention from government as they deal with growing pressures on public services, notably health and care, at a time of austerity which looks set to last well into the next parliament. And there is a significant challenge: whilst now there are 10 million, or 1 in 6, over 65, by 2050 that will be 19 million or 1 in 4. The numbers of those over 80 will rise from 3 million to 8 million in that time (The ageing population - UK Parliament).  Rural areas are ageing more quickly than urban ones; by 2028 those over 85 will increase by 185% in rural areas compared to 146% elsewhere (Age UK, Later life in rural England).

Although we are living longer, we are not seeing the same proportionate increase in healthy longer life. Whilst many in rural areas report better health outcomes than people in towns and cities, the ageing profile of rural areas will see higher rising demand for health care services. An Age UK’s report highlights an anticipated 70% growth in the numbers of older people in rural England needing social care.  At the same time, access to health and care services is more difficult due to reduced capacity of public transport.

So developing services and homes that can help older people to maintain their health and wellbeing, to stay active and engaged within their local community is a really important element of planning for rural areas.  The right type of home with support to keep people safe and well at home for longer will be an important way of preventing or reducing dependence on care, and enabling some health services to be delivered in the home.

CIH, with the Housing LIN, is currently looking at how new retirement housing might meet the needs and aspirations of older people more effectively.  Giving people better and really attractive housing options which can encourage them to ‘downsize’ and release family housing can contribute to sustainable local communities. The right models of retirement housing can help people manage their mobility or health needs more effectively, and provide a resource for social and other activities that address the risk of social isolation – something that has been demonstrated to be as harmful as smoking for people’s wellbeing.

But in rural areas, how do we deliver retirement housing that meets needs where numbers may be low and economies of scale perhaps harder to achieve?  Can schemes be placed strategically to meet needs across a number of settlements, and provide support into the wider community?  Or do we need to look at developing smaller homes well connected through assistive technology, rather than a retirement housing scheme? The challenge was set out in our first report, Creating housing choices for life.  We are keen to hear from local authorities and housing providers in rural areas, about the models of homes and services you have or want to develop to support older people in rural areas.  The next stage of this work will be to report on what those retirement housing models of the future might look like, and what we need to help the industry to deliver them, in terms of the policy, legislative and funding contexts.

Let us know your comments and examples, by contacting Sarah Davies at sarah.davis@cih.org


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.

RSN - Observatory on Housing

Balancing the housing market, improving the quality of housing stock, and enabling the provision of affordable housing are all key issues which concern rural local authorities.

These are often topical issues and the Housing section of the Observatory considers what the data available can tell us about the position in rural communities, and what challenges rural communities might face in the future.

To view the data set out in this section 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

Rural Health Conference 2013
The Rural Health Conference took place on Friday 18th October at Sandy Park Conference Centre. The programme majored on the potential efficiencies and benefits to patients and carers from the opportunities arising from telehealth and telecare applications and current issues in respect of rural health.

The Rural Services Network will now be taking forward a number of suggestions from delegates as well as the speakers for areas of development and future work. The RSN will also be working with MP Graham Stuart’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services to look at current challenges in providing high quality health care to rural communities

For further information and presentations of the event click here

What's new

Local Finance Seminars

To help with responding to the Annual Settlement consultation and any other current challenging items members wish to cover we are providing 8 free finance seminars in January 2014.  We hope to make this a part of our annual service to members. These will be of particular interest to Finance Officers.

The seminars will be spread across England to ensure they are inclusive for all and will be presented for us by Neil Benn and Adrian Jenkins of Pixel Consulting.
The seminars themselves will give participants the chance to hear from two finance specialists with many years of experience on a wide range of topics, including the provisional settlement, longer-term prospects, council tax referendum issues, special grants and the New Homes Bonus.  All sessions will feature round-table discussions in small groups so that everyone will have the opportunity to share knowledge and get the answers they need to respond to the consultation following the Government announcements due in December and to finalise their budget plans.

For more information about the events and where these are being held please contact richard.inman@sparse.gov.uk


Coming Soon.....

Rural Vulnerability Index 2013
The Vulnerability Index was developed in response to the challenge of measuring the impact of recession on local areas.
The index identified vulnerability by looking at wage levels, the current stock of public sector jobs, the number of JSA claimants and the percentage of the population which is of working age.

Look out for the 2013 findings which will be available on the RSN website soon.......
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.