Government Echos UCL Findings: Unleashing The Potential Of Rural Exception Sites Ket To Solving Rural Housing Crisis

The affordable housing crisis in rural England has reached a critical juncture. Skyrocketing property prices, limited amenities, and conservation restrictions have made it increasingly difficult for local residents to find affordable places to live in the countryside they call home. However, a new Government report titled “Delivering rural opportunity” highlights a promising solution that has been underutilised for far too long – Rural Exception Sites (RES).

The report notes that the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in December 2023 “included amendments to emphasise the importance of community-led housing development in rural areas.” It states:

“We also introduced a new exception site policy to make it easier for community groups to develop affordable housing on sites that would not otherwise be suitable as rural exception sites.”

This directly aligns with the findings from groundbreaking research recently conducted by University College London (UCL) on behalf of the Rural Housing Network and English Rural. The UCL study found that out of 145 rural local authorities, only 25 used Rural Exception Sites to deliver affordable homes between 2021 and 2022. This resulted in a mere 546 affordable homes being built, when nearly 3,000 could have been developed if more councils had fully leveraged this policy.

Acknowledging this untapped potential, the Government report states, “The underexploited potential of Rural Exception Sites represents a significant missed opportunity in tackling the rural housing crisis.” It goes on to outline key strategies to boost RES utilisation, including:

✅ Emphasising early community engagement to garner support
✅ Increasing support and resources for Rural Housing Enablers
✅Encouraging stronger partnerships between local authorities, developers and communities
✅ Adjusting policies like updating the National Planning Policy Framework
✅ Advocating for additional funding and resources for rural planning authorities

Notably, these Government recommendations closely mirror many of the key findings from the UCL research. As Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural, powerfully stated about the UCL study:

Martin Collett“The findings from this study highlight a critical pathway towards addressing the rural housing shortage. By effectively leveraging Rural Exception Sites, we can provide much-needed affordable homes to those in need, directly impacting the well-being and sustainability of rural communities.”

With both the Government report and UCL research unequivocally demonstrating that Rural Exception Sites are a vital yet underutilised tool in the fight against the rural housing crisis, the imperative for action could not be clearer. By boldly implementing the strategies outlined and finally unlocking the full potential of RES, we can preserve the cherished character of the English countryside while crucially ensuring our rural communities remain affordable and accessible to all. The time has come to unleash this untapped potential.

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