In praise of (a) rural development: affordable housing in Dartmoor

Earlier today, I was delighted to open a development of seven affordable homes in Holne, Dartmoor. The development has been controversial locally, and I generally sympathise with anyone concerned by the impact new buildings have on the places they love. There is almost always something lost when a development happens, particularly in such a beautiful part of the countryside.

But much can be also gained if it is done with care. Buildings can enhance a place’s interest and beauty, as well as detract from it. And villages need new life. A ‘living’ village has a mix of ages and incomes. Something dies when a village becomes the preserve of retirees and second home owners. I certainly do not accept the extraordinary view (assuming that the scheme’s opponents have been fairly quoted) that it’s one law for the rich, another law for the poor, and the poor always win.

The Hastoe Housing development in Holne was supported by the parish council, the National Park Authority and, crucially for my involvement, CPRE Devon.  Hastoe  has ensured that the homes fit in with the village and are energy efficient (code level 4 – earlier plans for passivhaus homes had to be dropped because the site was unsuitable).

I think it is a great development. But it took many years and a good deal of effort to get the houses built. The parish agreed in the late 1990s that it needed new affordable homes; a housing group to deliver them was set up in 2007; Hastoe became involved in 2010, and consultation intensified. A planning application was finally submitted in January 2013. It was agreed the following month, so the planning process was swift even if the consultation was protracted.

It was good to meet some of the villagers who stuck with this scheme and pushed it through. It clearly takes a good deal of luck and sticking power to build a scheme of this sort. It also required a benevolent landowner to sell the land at a reasonable price. Allowing market housing on exceptions sites will simply ensure that landowners hold out for a higher price: it is unlikely to make schemes more viable.

In their speeches at the opening, the Chair and chief executive of Hastoe praised a long list of people and organisations. But Hastoe also deserve praise for delivering such a good scheme and listening to the community. Getting consent for schemes like this is difficult, but so is raising the finance: it never ceases to amaze and appal me just how much ingenuity has to go into building a few homes for ‘affordable’ rent in rural areas. The planning system and local opposition may hold up some schemes, but lack of finance holds up many more.

So, a good day, and I was really pleased to get out to see an exemplary project which the local CPRE group wholeheartedly supported.

1 Response to “In praise of (a) rural development: affordable housing in Dartmoor”

  1. 1 CPRE Local Supporter October 18, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    A link to a reasonable set of photographs of this village housing would have been helpful. The only link offered is to a South Hams District Council press release with four small photos. The front facades of the houses in the photo look good but the overall impact on the setting is not possible to assess from the SHDC photos. Perhaps CPRE can publish better photos on this page or another one on the site.
    One suspects that the time taken to deliver the scheme was mainly to do with finance, not planning, as the policy of rural exception sites in Local Plans is not new, but well-established. The appearance of such houses is what normally concerns local people, not whether they are energy efficient; and the latter should not override the former.

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