Blog - Rural Housing Week| Dan Griffiths - Director of Development at Progress Housing Group
Housing is vital for the survival of rural communities and services. Rural Housing Week (6 - 10 July 2020) highlights key rural issues and shines a spotlight on successful rural developments - National Housing Federation.
Progress Housing Group's Director of Development, Dan Griffiths, highlights some key rural issues for housing associations and talks about the Group's land-led approach to rural housing development in his blog for Rural Housing Week.
Often the urban conurbations grab the ‘housing need’ headlines, along with the funding to support affordable housing provision. We have major cities surrounding our core area in Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster, with Preston set right in the middle of it. But our area is also beset with a variety of rural communities and villages.
The needs of rural communities often get overlooked by the national press and policy makers, but the housing issues they experience are significant. And the answers are not simple.
Workers in the rural economy usually earn less than the average wage.
Villages are desirable places to live so people without local connections buy properties to retire or to seek a ‘change in life’ reducing the affordability and availability of properties for local residents.
Increasing life expectancy also impacts, with many young people and families forced to move out to more affordable areas, straining links with their communities and support networks. This creates other issues, for example a reduction in the number of school age children means local schools can become unsustainable.
Planning policies and pressure from local residents can also restrict the ability to expand housing provision.
The key is to have clear policy in relation to development in rural areas that is evidence-based, sensitive and appropriate for each rural settlement. Local residents must be consulted to engender support, and local letting policies put in place, to help ensure those in housing need with a local connection have priority to access any new housing provision.
So is Progress Housing Group doing their bit?
The first site we have acquired for our land-led development approach is in Weeton, a small village in Fylde. We are working through a revised planning application to deliver more than 20 affordable homes, which should start on site later this year. Part of this site may also be developed for outright sale by Concert Living.
- Continuing this land-led approach, we have recently won a tender for a site in High Bentham, 15 miles from Lancaster. We are working through the necessary due diligence to acquire this site in the near future.
- Last year, a package deal with Create Homes delivered five homes in Inskip, Wyre, with a further 17 homes still on site.
- We recently gained approval to deliver a section 106 scheme of five homes in Forton near Lancaster with Kingswood Homes.
- A package scheme of 55 homes in Catterall on the A6 is currently being assessed with Breck Developments.
So the answer is yes, but the needs are significant and we need to keep delivering new housing to meet the needs of our smaller, rural communities.
Read about our two rural housing developments in Inskip, Ash Meadow and St Petersfields on the website here (opens in new window).
Long-term implications of COVID-19 on rural housing
We still do not fully know what the long-term implications of Covid-19 upon society and rural communities will be. There have been significant changes in working practices with less need to be based centrally in a city or conurbation. Given the length of time the lockdown situation has gone on for, elements will remain embedded in the future. Sectors in society may change their view on their residential aspiration (possibly increasing demand towards rural settlements) and this will need to be considered in policy and strategy.
What continues to be evident is the disproportionate resource input required from housing associations to deliver smaller schemes that meet the specific need of a rural community. Package deals and section 106 delivery put the focus on a developer to push on with planning applications and community consultation work.
This approach requires reliance on the influence of the local authority housing strategy manager and planning team to ensure the full context of the affordable need is considered in numbers, type, tenure and design. The housing assocaition would only get involved at a later stage.
Whilst we will continue to deliver package deals and take section 106 homes, Progress Housing Group is committed to delivering a land-led development programme. We have a site already acquired and are working through due diligence on a further site. This allows us to consult, support and work in conjunction with the rural communities throughout our area to assist them in meeting their local housing needs.