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South-West Region worst affected by affordable housing crisis, CPRE Report warns

28th November 2023

The South West region is worst affected by an acute shortage of genuinely affordable and social housing. 

This is a key finding of a new report by CPRE, the countryside charity.

Rupert Hardy, Chair North Dorset CPRE said:Unravelling a crisis: the state of rural affordable housing in England’ sets out the causes and true extent of this problem and lays bare its impact on families and communities. This is the real housing crisis. Action is needed, nationally and locally, to address this shortage and provide the truly affordable housing Dorset needs for a better future for local people.”

  • CPRE’s report reveals the impact of an overlooked rural housing crisis and shows how the next government can increase the supply of affordable homes.
  • Families are being driven out of the countryside by record house prices relative to wages, and a shortage of genuinely affordable homes, made worse by an increase in second homes and short-term lets. Communities and the countryside risk being drained of skills, economic activity and vital public services.
  • Rural house prices increased at almost twice the rate of those in urban areas in the five years to 2022. While the average cost of a home jumped 29% to £419,000, rural earnings increased by just 19% to an average of £25,600.
  • Rural homelessness is up 40% since 2018 in rural England. 300,000 people are waiting for social housing in rural England, a backlog that would take 89 years to clear at current rates of construction.

Rupert Hardy said: “CPRE’s latest report underlines the scale of this crisis – for families, communities, jobs, health and wellbeing - and suggests practical solutions. Housing problems are a key factor in domestic violence and the abuse of vulnerable adults, which have increased in Dorset and BCP, as recent rise in safeguarding concernsdata show. Local councils recognise this impact of the shortage of affordable homes. Dorset CPRE welcomes recent calls (for example by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty), for new planning and housing policies which do more to meet local housing needs of families and of young and older people, and key workers such as carers. Investment is also needed to improve the low energy efficiency of much local housing by retrofitting insulation and solar panels. Such action would help with the cost of living, address the climate emergency and benefit local employment and skills.”

Peter Neal, a Dorset CPRE Vice-President and a Director of the Sherborne CLT said: “Dorset CPRE welcomes the work of Community Land Trusts (CLTs) to develop affordable homes, in partnership with local communities and landowners. The Sherborne Community Land Trust is currently looking at several sites for the development of social housing for local people with a connection to the town.  It is hoped that consultation on one of these sites will take place in the early part of next year.”

More information:

More than 300,000 people are on waiting lists for social rented housing in rural England, an increase of just over 10% since 2018. At the current rate of construction, it would take 89 years for everyone on a waiting list to be offered a home. Current planning policies allow for the building of new ‘affordable’ housing costing anything up to 80% of market value. This means that in many rural areas the ‘affordable homes’ being provided are often anything but.

Local authorities have not replaced social housing at the rate properties have been sold under the Right to Buy policy, leading to a chronic shortage of housing for people who need it most.

In Cornwall, where more than 15,000 families are on social housing waiting lists, the number of properties for short-term let at much higher prices than social rents, grew by 661% in the five years to 2021. Half of the families on social housing waiting lists in South Lakeland could be accommodated in local properties available exclusively as holiday rentals, while Devon has seen 4,000 homes taken off the private rental market and 11,000 new short-term listings since 2016.

The government has legal powers to protect council housing purchased under the Right to Buy scheme from being sold off at market rates or as second homes. CPRE’s research is the first published study to look at the overall coverage of these so-called ‘Section 157’ powers. CPRE found that these powers only apply to half of all rural parishes in England. They exclude whole counties such as Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, and also large towns. There are several large towns, particularly places like Cirencester, Frome, Padstow, Sherborne and St Ives in Southwest England, where there is a particular lack of affordable housing.

The report contains a list of recommendations that CPRE believes will help to solve the severe housing crisis in the countryside. It includes calls for the next government to:

  • Ensure the term ‘affordable housing’ is redefined to directly link to average local incomes.
  • Increase the minimum amount of genuinely affordable housing required by national planning policy and implement ambitious targets for the construction of social rented homes.
  • Support local communities to deliver small-scale developments of genuinely affordable housing and make it easier for councils to purchase land at a reasonable price, enabling the construction of social housing and vital infrastructure.
  • Introduce a register of second homes and short-term lets, with new powers for local authorities to levy additional council tax on second homes.
  • Extend restrictions on the resale of ‘affordable housing’ to all parishes with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants to ensure properties continue to be used by local workers, not as second homes or holiday lets.

CPRE Chief Executive Roger Mortlock said: "Decades of inaction have led to an affordable housing crisis. Solutions exist and the next government must set and deliver ambitious targets for new, genuinely affordable and social rented rural housing. Record house prices and huge waiting lists for social housing are driving people out of rural communities, contributing to soaring levels of often hidden rural homelessness. Urgent change is required to ensure we don’t end up with rural communities that are pricing out the very people needed to keep them vibrant."

Read the full report

Read the 2023 affordable housing report hereCPRE has also created a jargon-busting explainer, to help readers interpret the report and understand some of the key policy mechanisms.

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