Rural areas and the right to buy

Here is a slightly longer version of my column in the forthcoming issue of the Countryman.

I am usually uneasy about the argument that the countryside deserves special treatment, and not only because everyone says that their particular group or cause deserves special treatment. Much of what makes the countryside different is also what gives it its character – its beauty, its tranquillity and its remoteness. Remoteness should not mean the absence of services – post offices, shops, local hospitals and so on – but it does mean that the countryside cannot have all the benefits of the town. It other benefits that more than compensate.

But when it comes to housing, rural areas really do present a special case. If we want villages to be vibrant with a mix of ages and backgrounds, we need to build more homes that are affordable in perpetuity. Personally, I support a big increase in social housing in towns and cities, as well as in villages as the best way to tackle the housing crisis, but I realise that the idea is absurdly old-fashioned, redolent of a time when Britain was ruled by dangerous left-wingers like Churchill and Macmillan. Social housing has been out of fashion since 1979. But I hope the Government can be persuaded not to sell off the little that remains in rural areas.

The arguments are laid out in compelling detail in a new CPRE report, A Living Countryside. Average house prices in every region are higher in rural areas than urban areas, and rising faster. In the West Midlands, where the gap is greatest, the average rural home costs £244,000, compared with £155,000 for an urban home. By contrast, rural wages are on average £5,000 a year lower than those in urban areas.

Many villages lost most of their affordable housing when council housing was sold off – only 8% of homes in rural areas are classified as affordable, compared with 20% of urban housing. Now the Government is proposing to force housing associations to sell properties at knock-down prices to their tenants. The land for many such houses was gifted or sold at agricultural values to housing associations by landowners wanting to provide permanently affordable homes for the village. How will they feel if the homes end up on the open market? And who will make land available in future?

There is no limit to the demand for housing in many villages. Build houses and the buyers will come, until the village becomes a town. But there is a crying need in many villages for affordable homes for local people who cannot afford to buy on the open market. The Government’s current proposals would reduce the stock of affordable rural houses and make it harder to build them in future. I hope it will think again.

5 Responses to “Rural areas and the right to buy”

  1. 1 David Fursdon July 13, 2015 at 6:12 am

    I agree with the important need to protect such affordable he’s that there are in rural areas. However there is no consensus about the difference between rural and urban house values. Have you taken the Halifax figures which I think are suspect? There are so many variables. How about some CPRE research?

    • 2 Luke Burroughs (Policy and Research Adviser at CPRE) July 14, 2015 at 9:55 am

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your excellent comment. I have indeed used the Halifax figures in ‘Living Countryside’ report. I agree that these might not be entirely accurate because of the variables that you mention. There is definitely scope for CPRE to consider further researching the differences between rural and urban house prices.

      However, what appears to be clear is that median annual earnings for people living in rural areas are significantly lower than in urban areas and this is strongly going to impact the affordability of housing in rural communities. More information on this is available in DEFRA’s 2015 Statistical Digest of Rural England.

      I believe that the housing crisis is exacerbated in many rural areas due to higher house prices (although, as you rightly state the extent to which this applies to all rural areas is unknown) and lower earnings. A key mechanism in overcoming this crisis is to protect existing affordable housing in rural communities. It is also important to find ways to increase the delivery of affordable housing which is aimed at meeting the housing needs of rural communities.

      Pleae feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of this further.



  2. 3 Andrew Carey July 13, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    “I am usually uneasy about the argument that the countryside deserves special treatment”.
    That’s good to know. I look forward then to you calling for the end of agricultural subsidies, and the end of the inheritance tax exemption for farming land. You could make a case for keeping the red diesel subsidy as farm vehicles rarely use public roads, although many other users of diesel don’t use public roads.

  3. 4 geoff lambert July 22, 2015 at 10:34 am

    I see no case at all for subsidising rural homes. if you want to live in the country then pay the price. we should remove all rural subsidies (red diesel, inheritance relief, rural buses etc.). It is precisely because it is so relatively cheap to live in rural areas that attracts people. We need to increase costs to stop development in Green Belt and rural locations.

    • 5 Andrew Carey July 22, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      You left a few out Geoff. Agricultural subsidies are redistributing public funds to a lot of millionaires ( based on owning 100 acres of agricultural land valued at 10k per acre which is typical ). These subsidies also make sugars and edible fats cheaper than they would be in a notional free market, subsidies which make us fatter, and which policy advisers ignore instead favouring higher taxes on sugary products.
      Farm buildings are exempt from business rates. Why? Farming is a business. And farming effectively gets its own government department in DEFRA. It is an industry and if starting today we’d put it in with DTI.

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