Rural Housing Week 2024: Seizing the Moment for Affordable Rural Homes Amidst Election Fervor

By Martin Collett, English Rural’s Chief Executive:

Martin Collett

Martin Collett, Chief Executive, English Rural

“This year Rural Housing Week is different. It happens during a general election campaign and at a time when voters elect a government that will lead the country for the next five years. Alongside the political campaigning that peaks during the week, those who support affordable rural housing will be making our voices heard. It will not be easy. However, the increasing focus from political parties on housing affordability and delivery does present an opportunity. As political campaigns have evolved, the topic of housing has ranked ever higher as a priority. A reflection of conversations on doorsteps where voters are either ‘for it’ or ‘against it.’

The main political parties have offered up a range of commitments on housing in their manifestos. Each has a variation on where it should go and who it should prioritise. Setting these nuances aside, there is agreement that we need to build more homes. Roughly speaking, a rounded target of 1.5-million over the five-years. This will require a herculean effort involving landowners, planners, house builders, housing associations and, crucially, local and national government. Success will be reliant on having a long-term plan, strategic forethought about where the homes will go, and importantly, what supporting infrastructure is also necessary. There will need to be higher levels of public and private investment, greater collaboration, and a supportive and pragmatic policy framework. The Minister that gets the brief to be in charge will need to show a cast iron will. If all this happens, then it will provide the confidence, stability and leadership that is currently lacking.

Estimates are that existing brownfield sites can take around 1-million new homes. That is worth pursuing, so long as they can be transformed into places where people want to live. New house building should, and must, happen in the countryside as well. Delivering affordable homes within villages and market towns that desperately need them. That will mean sacrificing small parcels of green fields and not being precious about it. The fact is that we have a chronic shortage of homes, especially affordable homes, and we need to get on with building them. That should not be seen as concreting over the countryside as some will claim. It is about supporting the countryside to become the thriving place it deserves to be. New homes can, and should, be built sensitively, consultatively with communities, and work with the natural environment.

As the nation commences this great British build programme, English Rural has collaborated with other housing associations, developers, architects, and countryside advocates to produce a Good Design Guide. The guide is being launch at an event on 5th July and features a foreword by HRH The Princess Royal and illustrations by architectural artist and author Matthew Rice. It is intended to be used by local communities, providing them with inspiration and guidance. It features a practical toolkit that will help to articulate what new homes should look like and achieve.

Rural communities have always expanded, and with a bit of imagination they can again in a way that delivers well-planned beautiful homes. If the nation is to secure the homes it needs, then rural communities should have their fair share. If every village were to build as little as ten new affordable homes on a small corner of local field, we would deliver around 80,000 across rural England. Alongside delivery in towns and cities up and down the country, then the herculean effort feels achievable and equitable for all.

Now is the time to roll up our sleeves, work together and get building.”

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