English Rural interviewed Cllr Stephen Hayward, Chair of Dunsfold Parish Council in Surrey, about the value small-scale, affordable rural housing brings to a village like Dunsfold.
What was the starting point for the Parish Council in this project?
Dunsfold Parish Council has always recognized that a Rural Exception Site is an effective way to deliver affordable housing for local people who would otherwise be priced out of the villages they grew up in. We recognise that small-scale developments of affordable housing, restricted to people from the parish, can help invigorate the community. A site at in the village had already been put forward by the owners, a family who’d originally run a market garden in the village adjacent to the site, so it already had a local connection.
Our initial step was to work with Surrey Rural Housing the Rural Housing Enabler on a housing needs survey which established that there’d be sufficient people with a local connection to occupy the eight dwellings that have been built here. The next step was to choose the Housing Association, and the choice to work with English Rural was an easy one for us because they’d already successfully delivered two other projects in the village. We’ve always found English Rural extremely easy to deal with and they take residents’ feedback seriously and genuinely work with the community to deliver the best outcome for the village. And importantly, they bring a local legitimacy to their projects, which is of course central to the whole affordable housing process.
Can you tell me how the Parish Council engages with its residents?
As a Parish Council, we’re always trying to keep our residents informed so that they have the facts with which they can make meaningful decisions. Regarding housing, that may mean sharing information on borough planning policies and targets which may have an impact on the village. At the moment this is very much in people’s minds as we’re currently in the process of engaging with the community as part of producing a neighbourhood plan.
The advent of social media means that a lot of misinformation is easily circulated, so it’s important that the Parish Council has a recognized set of channels that people can rely on to get their information. We have an official Parish Council website which not only shows people meeting agendas and minutes but also the latest news in relation to neighbourhood planning and other housing issues. We also have a village email newsletter that people subscribe to and emails are circulated to the village on a regular basis with the latest news. And for those that don’t have internet access, the postman is quite often employed for leaflet drops and circulating general information to households. And of course, there’s the local village shop, which is a source of much local chit-chat and can be a useful source of information but, a bit like social media, can also be a source for misinformation. Therefore, we must be careful that the community gets their information from the official Parish Council channels.
The website and the email newsletter provide the reassurance to residents that they’re getting the information they need on subjects like Rural Exception Sites and affordable homes. And they can be reassured that, in the case of affordable homes, they will be for local people. In fact, one of our councillors represents the fifth generation of his family to live in Dunsfold, and the next two generations continue to live in the village thanks to English Rural’s affordable homes.
What are the benefits of affordable rural homes to the local community?
The average house price in Surrey is 14-times the average annual income and on average rural homes are 30-percent more expensive than homes in urban areas. The result of that is that many rural villages have a real imbalance of social and economic mix. We want our community to remain vibrant and prevent the loss of local services and facilities. Therefore, it’s important that our local community remains accessible to younger people and working families and not just the retired and the wealthy. Research by English Rural suggests that every pound spent on local affordable housing developments provides six pounds fifty in economic and social return to the community. So, it’s not just about providing housing – it also positively impacts people’s lives.
A good example here is the Dunsfold village shop which has been community owned and run since 2011. In fact, it was an English Rural home that enabled one of our young shop managers the responsibility of building the shop up to what it is now and remain living locally. She actually lived directly opposite the shop on the common in Dunsfold. Discounted Local Sale homes also provide an important bridge for those people who are looking for a larger sized property but can’t quite afford the three- or four-bedroom houses that are available on the open market in the area. They also provide a valuable balance to the community.
If you are a Parish Councillor and would like to know how to get small-scale, affordable homes built in your village, why not read the Parish Council Guide to affordable rural housing? Just click the link below: