Making Land Available For Local-Needs Housing – An Interview With A Landowner

We interviewed Kent landowner, Henry Bryant, about why he wanted to give back to the community he knows and loves by selling a small patch of land to support the development of affordable rural homes:

Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your connection to the village?

I’m Henry Bryant.  I’ve been living here in the village all my life – which is nearly 73 years. My father lived in the village all his life, except when he was away at the war, and my grandparents lived in the village all their married life. So, we’ve got connections with the village that go back at least one hundred years – maybe a little bit more.

What made you decide to make your land available for local-needs housing?

I should think about thirty years ago I was asked to make this piece of land available for affordable rural housing, but I must admit I wasn’t quite as philanthropic in my younger days. More recently, the Parish Council carried out a survey which showed that there was a desperate need for affordable housing inthe village of  Hernhill. Of the other sites that they picked out, none of the landowners were prepared to sell the land. I was the only one, which is fine by me having lived in the village all my life. I thought here’s a chance to put a little bit back into the community that I’ve lived in for so long.

Were there any obstacles along the way?

I would say that most of the problems really related to a lack of communication between the Parish Council, at the time, and the parishioners. Obviously if you’re going to sell land at a big discount from what it would make if it were for full planning permission, you’re only going to get landowners to agree to that on sites that have no development potential. This immediately means that people think that we’re building on the wrong sites, and they can’t understand why it wasn’t done on a brownfield site or somewhere nearer to other buildings. As it was a greenfield site, that did cause problems it has to be said, but we overcame them. And I detect now that it’s all signed and sealed, people have accepted it and I think once they’re built, they’ll be surprised at how good they look. There was a development quite close to here at a village called Leaveland, and there was a terrific uproar there about it. But I’ve had several people from that area say to me “to tell you the truth it looks better now than it did before.”

How do you think a small development of homes for local people can benefit the community?

Well mainly it’s affordable housing for people of the Parish. In recent times all the children of people who have lived in the village all their lives are having to move out of the village, quite far away, when they really would much rather stay near their families. This has a big benefit on both ends of the life story. The grandparents are somewhere near at hand to help with the raising of children and at the other end, the children are near to the grandparents to help them in their old age. And it makes complete sense to me that people don’t want to move into the towns – they’re country people and they want to stay in the country. If you look up and down the roads around Hernhill, I can remember when they were all occupied by people who worked on farms or in rural industries within the Parish. Now, of course, they’re occupied by people who commute or work in local towns.

How can farmers and landowners work effectively with rural housing associations to get a small number of affordable homes built?

The nub of the problem is the Parish Councils have got to decide whether they need affordable housing in their parishes. Then they have got to communicate with the parishioners and tell them what they’re planning to do, why they’re planning to do it, and how they’re planning to do it before it all becomes ‘semi-official’, with parishioners suddenly finding out about it at a consultation, and then suddenly the whole thing goes in the wrong direction. It’s all down to communication, as so often is the case in life.

What has been your experience of working with English Rural?

I have found English Rural straightforward and easy to work with. I genuinely believe that they’ve done their utmost to work with the local community and address their needs and wants. I’m looking forward to seeing these homes built and seeing local people living in them and enjoying them.

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