Adam Smith Institute 1 - CPRE 0

marksimonbrown mark at
Wed May 17 11:20:08 BST 2006

Did anyone listen to the interview with Mischa Balen from the Adam 
Smith institute and some spokesperson from CPRE this morning on 
Radio-4's Today programme? On the day the Affordable Rural Housing 
Commission's report is published, Misha Balen very eloquently 
justified the urgency of the rural housing problem, swiftly moving 
on to suggest why his radical solution to the rural housing problem 
should be redeveloping agricultural land into a combination of 
woodland, housing and infrastructure. The guy from CPRE was, as 
you'dd expect, dismissive of this argument, without giving a 
substantive alternative argument or soultion, and infact, was 
unbelievably rude in continuing to laugh while Mr Balen spoke 
throughout the interview. That exasperating level of rudeness from 
the CPRE spokesperson only goes to emphasise, in my mind, how much 
CPRE have a secret agenda in protecting the interests of landowners 
and their raison-detre dressed up as the legitimate fear of the 
dreaded concreting-over-of-the-countryside is to continue exclusion 
of the urban masses from our green & in some places, agriculturally 
unpleasant land.

It is clear, to me, that the Tories' Clause-4 moment is to distance 
themselves from this palsied, dead hand of landed hegemony, which is 
of course underwritten by state benefaction and supported by this 
propaganda of fear.

Land Economy
The most radical change in land use in decades: Land Economy by 
Mischa Balen, puts the case for redeveloping agricultural land into 
a combination of woodland, housing and infrastructure. 

At the centre of that case is the fact that much agricultural land, 
including green belt land, is not particularly green: much farming 
land is ugly and provides no habitat for animal life. 

Moreover, our planning system precludes even sympathetic 
development, and creates a restriction in supply for housing which 
excludes many would-be first time buyers from the market. 

Mischa Balen calls for "the re-greening of England," with a radical 
proposal that some farms, including some greenbelt land, should be 
converted into a mixture of woodland and housing. 

Affordable Rural Housing Commission report:  A sustainable future 
for rural affordable housing?



 1.             Fulfilling its manifesto commitment, in July 2005 
the Government appointed Elinor Goodman to chair the Affordable 
Rural Housing Commission. Its task was to investigate the level of 
need for affordable housing in rural areas and to make proposals for 
addressing this. The Commission is expected to publish its report on 
Wednesday, 17 May 2006.

2.             There is an established consensus that the number of 
affordable housing in rural settlements is too few.  Affordable 
housing is defined as being either wholly rented or part owned so 
that it remains permanently available to those who cannot afford to 
buy on the open market. The shortage of affordable houses has 
several key causes including the virtual ceasing of their provision 
by local authorities after 1980, and the effect of the Right to Buy 
policy in reducing the affordable housing stock without replacement. 
Significant numbers of people who play an important role in rural 
communities are unable to afford to live in those communities.

Obstacles to the provision of rural affordable homes

 3.             CPRE has long argued that the provision of adequate 
affordable housing in rural areas can only be achieved if it is a 
key objective of the planning system.  For too long the building of 
affordable houses in rural communities has relied on the exceptions 
policy, whereby houses are built on sites where planning permission 
would not normally be granted. This `grace and favour' approach has 
relied on the good will and enthusiasm of landowners. It has 
delivered few houses and has a number of other significant 
drawbacks, including the difficulty of planning for essential 
services and well designed settlements. It forces a crude – and 
unnecessary – trade-off between environmental damage and social 

4.             For a sustainable solution to this problem, it is 
essential that the provision of affordable housing becomes part of 
the mainstream planning process and that Government funding is 
significantly increased.  

A portfolio of solutions

 5.             CPRE welcomes the recent announcement by the Housing 
Corporation that a further £230m will be made available over the 
next three years for the provision of an additional 6,000 homes. We 
also support the Corporation's call for local authorities to improve 
their performance in the provision of rural affordable housing.

6.             These measures need to be supplemented.  Planning 
policy currently does not give  local authorities adequate powers to 
set targets for provision of affordable homes.  And some local 
authorities have been slow in using the planning powers that are 
available. The provision of affordable houses implies resources 
which need to be found from some one other than the occupier of the 
home. In the view of CPRE, the alternative methods of finding these 
resources should be subject to rigorous testing, in terms of all 
aspects of their sustainability. 

7.             In particular, CPRE will be looking for the 
Commission's report to demonstrate a sound understanding of the 
following key issues:

·                     Funding: the need for a recognition by central 
Government that the provision of affordable housing in rural 
communities should receive an equitable share of public funding.

·                     Controlling market housing: most types of 
market housing in rural areas are overprovided and a significant 
general expansion of market housing in rural settlements is likely 
to be damaging in terms of carbon emissions, pressure on 
infrastructure and a further imbalance of rural communities towards 
affluent incomers.

·                     Building public support: achieving public 
acceptance of affordable housing where it is needed will be much 
less likely if it is accompanied by large numbers of market houses 
which are not necessary and lead to loss of valued local countryside.

·                     Integration: the location and numbers of 
affordable houses will vary amongst settlements and between regions, 
but the location of affordable houses should be integrated with 
market houses to help create coherent, inclusive communities.
·                     Quality of planning and design: providing 
affordable housing should include consideration of the affordabilty 
of living in these houses once they are built, in terms of energy 
use, the convenience and cost of travelling to and from home, and 
the quality of design both aesthetically and practically. 

·                     Protecting the wider public benefit: the 
public interest in the protection and enhancement of landscape and 
biodiversity need not be reduced because of the urgency of the need 
for affordable housing. Careful planning can prevent damaging and 
unnecessary trade-offs between housing provision and environmental 

Measures to assist local authorities

8.             In addition, we hope the Commission recognises the 
need for a wider range of measures to be used by local authorities 
to secure affordable housing in rural communities. These include:

·                     Greater use of existing powers: local 
authorities need to exert greater control over the number of 
affordable houses provided as part of housing developments.  This 
could be achieved through reducing site thresholds of numbers of 
houses built where provision of affordable houses is required and by 
local authorities setting higher quotas of affordable houses for all 
developments granted planning permission;

·                     Smart funding sources: the availability of 
mechanisms for local authorities to derive financial support for 
affordable housing where market housing is built, for affordable 
housing in other locations and on other occasions.  This could be 
achieved through the ability to commute sums of money arising from 
market housing development;

·                     Defining the objective: the establishment of a 
special `use class' for permanently affordable housing which would 
allow local authorities to allocate sites and grant planning 
permission specifically for affordable housing alone.

The Commission for Rural Communities

9.             CPRE notes the recent contributions by the Commission 
for Rural Communities to the debate on the provision for rural 
affordable housing.  Rural Housing – a place in the countryside? 
articulates the concerns of people who are priced out of the housing 
market in rural settlements. However, the report makes some 
assumptions which CPRE questions:

·                     The damaging effect of second homes. The 
distribution of second homes varies greatly and is concentrated in a 
few popular places. Where this is the case, the absence of 
affordable houses is a serious problem which could be addressed 
through new planning powers in specific areas to control second home 

·                     It should be recognised that housing used for 
holiday accommodation can, in certain circumstances, bring economic 
benefits to local economies, generate employment and attract 
significant visitor expenditure. 

·                     The inflexibility of the planning system 
failing to accommodate local circumstances. CPRE believes that the 
problem is precisely the opposite: the planning system is not strong 
enough to assure the provision of affordable housing. 

10.                Calculating Housing Needs in Rural England sets 
out a methodology for investigating the number of new affordable 
houses needed between 2006 and 2011.  The report calls for an 
unrealistic and unnecessary expansion of housing based on a 
methodology which does not stand up to scrutiny. The methodology 
used assumes a model for household creation where the offspring of 
all existing people living in rural settlements will require housing 
in those settlements. This takes no account of the desire of many 
young people to move to urban areas in pursuit of their careers or 
higher education and of the complex relationship between household 
formation and housing need.  


 11.           CPRE believes that the urgent need for affordable 
houses should not be confused with an unsustainable case for a major 
expansion of market housebuilding in the countryside. We need a 
significant increase in the funding for affordable housing in rural 
areas coupled with a stronger planning system which is better able 
to secure the provision of housing which meets identified needs, 
particularly of those unable to afford market housing.  CPRE would 
be alarmed should the Commission propose that the rural exceptions 
approach be extended or associated with the cross-subsidy of 
affordable housing by market housing on exceptions sites. This would 
seriously undermine the planning system, provoke resistance to 
urgently needed affordable housing and increase the suburbanising of 
the countryside.

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