Unlocking the Promise of Rural Exception Sites: A Deep Dive into Landowner Incentives and Affordable Rural Housing Solutions

In the heart of Rural Housing Week 2023, we’re excited to share early insights from research being conducted by University College London (UCL) in collaboration with English Rural, investigating the role of Rural Exception Sites (RES) as a key solution for the affordable housing crisis in rural England. As the struggle for affordable rural housing persists, the importance of engaging landowners in RES becomes increasingly evident. The research’s core themes pivot around the significance of RES, the role of landowners, incentives for their engagement, and recommendations for a more robust affordable rural housing strategy.

The Beacon of Rural Exception Sites

A Rural Exception Site scheme in Roxwell, Essex – by English Rural

Unravelling the thread of RES reveals a promising beacon in the plight of affordable rural housing. These sites, not allocated for residential use in a local plan but potentially available for affordable homes, and located in areas of recognised need, provide an opportunity to develop land at a cost tied to its usage for affordable housing. In stark contrast to inflated market prices for residential land, this cost-effective mechanism offers a viable financial solution to build much-needed homes in the heart of rural communities.

Landowners: The Linchpin of RES Success

Landowners emerge as indispensable partners in the success story of RES. Their collaboration is essential in unlocking the potential of these sites for affordable housing. But the engagement of landowners is no simple feat—it requires an in-depth understanding of their perspectives, the ability to address their concerns, and an effective approach to propose and manage incentives.

Devising Incentives: A Win-Win Blueprint

Drawing from our research, we uncover the significance of providing incentives that not only make economic sense but also address the landowners’ inherent concerns. Among these incentives, the ‘cross-subsidy’ model emerges as an effective tool. This model allows a limited number of market homes to be built alongside affordable ones, creating a financial incentive for landowners while maintaining the focus on affordable housing.

Moreover, our research points towards the provision of additional development benefits—such as access roads or building foundations—as viable and cost-effective incentives. These features, often required during the development phase, double as valuable assets for landowners without excessively inflating the cost of the scheme.

Engaging the Landowner: Fostering Trust & Clarity

A strong emphasis is laid on the need for transparent and engaging communication with landowners. Registered Providers (RPs), such as English Rural, have a central role in facilitating this dialogue, meticulously addressing the landowners’ concerns, and presenting a compelling case for the benefits of releasing land for RES. This process is effectively achieved through in-person meetings, fostering an environment of trust and mutual understanding.

Refining the RES Approach: Recommendations for a Brighter Future

Reflecting on our findings, we propose an array of recommendations to further bolster the potential of RES in tackling the affordable housing shortage. Among the key recommendations proposed, are:

– The need for better information provision to local parish councils about RES policy,

– Understanding and communicating the unique benefits of RES to rural communities, and

– The promotion of good design in RES development

A Rural Exception Site scheme in Warehorne, Kent – by English Rural

Particularly significant is the call for greater clarity around landowner incentives. A systematic approach to incentivising landowners could greatly stimulate their interest in releasing land for affordable housing. It’s crucial for this process to be framed in a way that is transparent, reasonable, and proportional to the landowner’s contribution to affordable housing provision.

Our research paints a vivid picture of the potential RES holds for combating the affordable housing crisis in rural England. The success of this strategy hinges on forging productive partnerships with landowners, necessitating an understanding of their needs, the provision of effective incentives, and the fostering of transparent, trust-based relationships. The road to resolving the rural housing crisis is long, but with shared commitment and insight, the journey is not just possible—it’s an exciting, transformative prospect for the rural community.

If you feel your local community could benefit from affordable rural homes, we encourage you to take action. Get in touch with English Rural. We are on hand to help contribute to the sustainability and vitality of your communities. Together, we can ensure that rural communities remain vibrant and sustainable places to live, work, and thrive.

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