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Rural Housing Strategy

The Rural Housing Strategy 2011 - 2015


We are very pleased to introduce Swales first rural housing strategy. Swale is an attractive and diverse place to live and work in and with a third of Swales population living in rural communities it is no surprise that there is a need for rural homes that are both affordable and available to local households in Swale.

Through partnership working and strong community involvement we are striving to bring forward new affordable homes in rural areas for local people with the right facilities and services to support neighbourhoods. This strategy aims to deliver this much needed housing, to ensure existing housing provides good quality decent homes and that rural communities and businesses thrive.

This strategy has been produced at a time of great change nationally and provides some new and exciting opportunities to drive forward rural affordable housing through community involvement. The recent economic decline has meant a downturn in the housing market and financial difficulties for many households. The delivery of more affordable homes will be a challenge in these times, but with strong partnership working, local involvement and community participation we will work to ensure the provision of local needs rural affordable housing to create balanced and sustainable communities in rural areas.

Swale Borough Council will monitor the progress of this strategy through an Action Plan. This details the four main objectives and strategic priorities which have been developed to facilitate the delivery of homes that are needed in rural communities for local people and to expand rural facilities and jobs. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our partners for their contribution to the development of this strategy and to say how encouraging their commitment is to ensuring the housing needs of Swales rural communities is met.

Councillor Derek Conway Portfolio Holder Environment (including rural issues)
Councillor David Simmons Portfolio Holder Housing


The average cost of a home in rural England is £223,000 which is eleven times the average rural wage. Local residents would need an income of £55,000 to get a mortgage; in contrast to this the average salary in the countryside is around £20,000 per annum and more than 750,000 people are on affordable housing waiting lists in rural areas of England1. To put this in context some rural parts of the South East region are less affordable on average than London2.

In many parts of the country house price to income ratios are higher in hamlets and villages than in urban settlements and in some cases are substantially higher. Without the provision of a range of new affordable housing, more and more rural communities will struggle to provide a balanced social and economic mix.

1National Housing Federation - October 2010
2The Taylor Review of Rural Economy and Affordable Housing 2008

A Rural Housing Strategy for Swale

This strategy focuses on the approach needed to deliver high quality rural affordable housing and housing services in areas of need for local people; it will also set out the unique requirements in accessing services and is supported by a full Community Impact assessment. Through a process of consultation this Strategy has pledged, where possible and appropriate, to enable solutions to rural housing issues and through close working relationships ensure local accountability and delivery. Swale Borough Council is committed to increasing provision of rural affordable housing; improving housing conditions and ensuring access to housing services is continued.

The process of delivering affordable housing in rural areas is reliant upon partnerships with the Borough Council, Parish Councils, local communities, Housing Associations and the Rural Housing Enabler who each play a vital role in the successful delivery of affordable housing for local people. By working with local communities we can ensure that there is an understanding of what affordable housing is; how it is delivered and who is eligible for it. Affordable rural local needs homes are provided by Housing Associations to enable local people to remain in the village where they live or work. These homes can never be sold on the open market and so remain available for people with local connections in perpetuity.

Determining the need for rural affordable housing is fundamental. Evidence of housing need in the area is required to support the case for any new rural affordable housing scheme. This is assessed by the Rural Housing Enabler on behalf of the Parish Council, using a rural housing needs survey. This survey provides the information needed to establish what need there is for affordable housing within the village including what type and size of tenure is most required.

Rural England

9.8 million people live in rural Communities (2008) and this number is growing. The average rural home costs 6.8 times the average annual rural household income (2007)4; yet only 11% of homes in rural areas are available for social housing compared to 21% in urban settlements5.

There needs to be a significant increase in the provision of affordable rural housing for both rent and sale. In 2006 The Affordable Rural Housing Commissions Final Report6 emphasised the belief that affordable housing can be delivered in such a way as to meet pressing need whilst maintaining the character of the English countryside and the open spaces between settlements. Good design is imperative and when implemented can confidently integrate affordable housing into the local community. Contemporary affordable housing in rural communities is designed to ensure the built environment of a community is positively enhanced through its scale, reflection of local character and by incorporating high levels of eco-efficiency.

It is recognised that some proposed rural developments are seen as unpopular; therefore it is vital that a consensus is built; embracing the wider interests of those within rural areas, so that people from all backgrounds are able to continue to live in suitable housing that meets the needs of the rural community both now and in the future. Village Design Statements included within Parish Plans; provide the local community with the opportunity to identify local character and set out design guidance to inform new developments. They facilitate community consensus on how the built environment should look and assist development by promoting sensitive design.

4Commission for Rural Communities - 10 Big Numbers November
5Commission for Rural Communities
The Affordable Rural Housing Commission - Final Report 2006 2009

Defining rural areas

The Governments definition of rural areas is based on density of population; with rural areas being set as those with settlements with a population under 10,000.

Across England there are 16,000 small towns, villages and hamlets. These smaller rural communities have populations of fewer than 3,000 but are home to 55% of all rural residents (6.4 million people); it is in these small communities that the challenges of unaffordable homes, low wages and declining services are at their greatest7 and it is villages of this size or less that have been the focus of this strategy. If a housing need is identified these smaller rural communities are eligible to benefit from the rural exception site policy enabling the development of small sites of affordable housing provided in perpetuity for local people.

7 The Taylor Review of Rural Economy and Affordable Housing 2008

Deprivation - incomes; house prices and affordable housing

The ability to provide affordable housing in rural areas that meets the needs of the local community is even more important in areas of high deprivation. Rural Deprivation nationally, regionally and locally is detailed in the Kent and South East Evidence Base study 2008. On the Isle of Sheppey there are 10 areas of concentrated rural deprivation along with 4 pockets of rural deprivation around Sittingbourne, Newington and Teynham. A small pocket of deprivation was also identified in Doddington. The study showed that there are 4 rural areas in Kent that are in the top 5% of the most deprived in England; and all of these are in Swale.

Although rural household incomes are on average higher than urban incomes; 21% of households in rural communities have an income of less than 60% of the national median, this compares to 26% within urban households. A large number of these households are more than likely going to require some type of financial assistance to enable them to meet their reasonable housing aspirations.

Deprivation is closely associated with health inequalities. Where people live, and the conditions they live in, are important to health. Poor housing can impact negatively on health, for example through poor thermal comfort with excess damp, cold and mould and standards of fire safety.

Rural exception sites

Rural communities have a unique opportunity to build affordable homes for local people in areas where development would not normally be permitted. Government advice allows for land on the edge of villages to be released for affordable housing as an exception to normal policy of development in the countryside; these areas are known as Rural Exception Sites8. Any application for affordable housing in rural areas must have the support of the Parish Council, and meet a local need as identified through consultation and a Housing Needs Survey.

8 Local Plan (Adopted 2008) - Policy RC3

Initiatives to promote rural homes - The Community Right to Build

The Community Right to Build proposals will give rural community organisations the power to approve new local developments of their choice and will enable an increase in rural affordable homes to meet local need. The introduction of this right will be supplementary to the standard planning application process, and is conditional on proposals meeting specific criteria supported by a 75% favourable vote in a local community referendum. The Government believe that this support threshold will enable communities to bring forward developments of their choice and desire whilst also ensuring that developments are supported by the overwhelming majority of the wider community.

The shift in power through the Community Right to Build from Government to communities will be introduced in autumn 2011 as part of the Localism Bill and will provide local people with the power to ensure the delivery of homes in areas of their choice and in relation to what they want.

Rural housing in the South East

80% of the South East region is classified as rural, whilst 77% of the population live in urban areas. Rural housing development is fundamental in the South East to enable a maximisation of its rural economy and address the resulting inter-related issues such as increasing waiting lists for affordable housing and diminishing young families in villages which has resulted in the loss of local services such as schools and shops9.

The South East has some of the least affordable rural housing in the UK; the impact of the cost of rural housing means that rural housing waiting lists across the country are now at a record level with not enough affordable homes being built to address the problem10.

9House of Commons - South East Regional Committee - Housing in the South East - First Report of Session 2009-10 - Published April 2010
10National Housing Federation

Rural housing in Swale

Map of the rural housing needs in Swale.

Rural areas make up the largest part of Swale with many of the Boroughs conservation areas being found there. These areas are important for farming as well as the contribution it makes to the Boroughs economy through recreation and tourism. With a third of the Boroughs population living in rural areas the specific challenges for rural communities include basic services being overstretched and in decline, farming being hit by considerable change and development pressures for affordable rural homes11.

There are 38 rural parishes throughout the Borough as well as five areas that are not parished; with Halfway being the only rural area within these five that is unparished but would be considered in the same way as other rural areas within Swale.

11Swale Borough Local Plan - Adopted 2008

Rural housing need and demand

There have been several reports completed over the last five years which have sought to quantify the need for affordable housing in rural areas. These reports have suggested that between 9,500 and 30,800 new affordable homes per year are needed in rural areas12.

Swales housing register is a valuable tool when looking at housing need. When analysed for rural need it revealed that every Parish except Luddenham; which cannot be specifically chosen on the housing register; has some level of housing need. Applicants on the Housing Register are able to specify the areas in which they would prefer to live. This information provides an indication of expressed demand for affordable housing in particular wards, villages and parishes. This information is valuable when establishing local connection as well as how in demand affordable housing in these rural areas is. Although the Housing Register highlights the level of expressed demand for affordable housing across Swale it is important to note that this data may under represent need. Some households do not register assuming there is little point due to the lack of affordable housing in rural areas, others may not realise they need to register to be eligible for shared ownership and some households may simply not be aware of the housing register system.

There is a need for rural homes that are affordable and available to local households in Swale; between November 2009 and November 2010; 26 rural households were assisted with prevention measures which equates to 10% of the total assisted that year; and an additional 14 rural households made a homeless application; equating to 8% of applications for that year.

12Homes for Rural Communities - Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2006

Private Sector Housing Conditions

There is private sector housing throughout Swale including homes in rural areas. Twenty-nine percent of all private sector homes are non-decent - one-third is occupied by vulnerable households. Swale has a number of farm worker cottages scattered across the many rural working farms; some of these homes are in poor condition and require maintenance to bring them up to standard. The private sector team in Swale can work with farmers and their tenants to ensure any improvements are undertaken.

Housing for Local People

In Swale clear and transparent Local Lettings Agreements for rural affordable developments already exist and have been used to support and sustain rural communities by carefully considering each rural allocation to ensure a balanced community life is maintained.

Case Study - Rural Exception Site Development

English Rural Housing Association - Cherryfields at Lynsted

Housing at Cherryfields, Lynsted.

"Photograph supplied by English Rural Housing Association 2009"

Through successful joint partnership working with Teynham Parish Council, Lynsted Parish Council, English Rural Housing Association, Swale Borough Council and a willing land owner, a recent example of a successful rural affordable housing development in Swale was built on an exception site in Lynsted. Cherryfields is a development of mixed tenure housing including shared ownership and social rented houses and flats and was completed in July 2009. A Section 106 agreement also known as a ˜planning obligation; was drawn up between the Council and the Housing Association to ensure the provision of certain contributions such as affordable homes for those with a connection to the village. This Section 106 planning agreement guarantees that local people with a connection to the area always have priority to the homes and it also ensures that the homes remain "affordable" and can never be purchased outright on the open market.

The Parish Councils were aware that local people were finding it a challenge to fund suitable accommodation that was affordable; concern was increasing about the long-term effects the housing problem would have on the these rural communities and so Councillors decided that together they would work to seek ways to resolve this matter. In 2005 the process began when Action for Communities in Rural Kent undertook and analysed a Housing Needs Survey to establish the exact need for affordable housing across both villages. Village residents were involved in the whole process from suggesting development sites to commenting on the proposals before a planning application was made. Community consultation is at the heart of all rural exception site developments and is vital to each developments success.

This development of eleven dwellings provides much needed affordable housing for those with a "local connection" to the villages of Teynham and Lynsted. It has proved to be a great success and is very popular with residents and village residents alike.

Rural Housing Consultation in Swale

A view reflected in a recent consultation survey determined that a large majority of respondents consider that information is readily available and accessible when required, although there are general areas of concern surrounding affordable housing developments including land used for these sites, associated stigma such as antisocial behaviour and appropriate infrastructure to support the developments. In contrast the response also highlighted a need for targeted information for vulnerable households with suggestions that the best means of communication being through direct mail rather than internet or advertisements.

A main area of concern was the future of personal financial means of support enabling continuing independence. A large majority of respondents are worried about the future availability of the Home Improvement Agency with worries that this may be negatively affected by the current economic climate and a further concern echoed throughout the responses is the lack of appropriate public transport services. Rural households should expect an adequate level of service from organisations and not be disadvantaged because they live further from towns.

Open market and cross subsidy housing - Rural Exception site policy

In light of the recently reduced grant funding for affordable housing that has particularly affected rural schemes; Swale Borough Council is researching innovative ways to increase rural affordable housing through the exploration via the Core Strategy of an open market-cross subsidy policy. This would allow a minimal number of open market homes to be built on rural exception sites with the subsidy created by these homes being used to deliver affordable homes on the same site.

The Draft National Planning Policy Framework13 supports this initiative within the development of rural affordable housing and stipulates that local planning authorities should be responsive to local circumstances and plan housing development to reflect local requirements, particularly for affordable housing. The Framework also suggests that consideration can be given to the inclusion of a minimal amount of open market homes that would facilitate the provision of additional affordable housing to meet local needs.

There are some local authorities including Suffolk Coastal District Council14 who have already chosen to take this initiative forward enabling small scale local needs developments of rural affordable housing being delivered alongside open market homes on land which might not otherwise be allocated for housing.

13Draft National Planning Policy Framework (July 2011) - Department
14Suffolk and Coastal Local Development Framework - Reviewed for Communities and Local Government Core Strategy and Development Management Policies; Development Plan Document; Consultation draft November 2010

Objective 1:

Increase housing supply, including affordable housing

Our PrioritiesWe have ...We will ...
Work with partners to ensure our approach to housing services strongly promotes and supports sustainability of rural communities.
  • Set up a rural housing task and finish group
  • Worked in partnership with Parish Councils on current schemes within the Rural Housing Needs Programme
  • Undertaken public consultation to gain views on rural affordable housing and access to housing services
  • Work with Swale Rural Forum
  • Continue to work with Parish Councils and consult with rural communities on rural issues
Optimise all opportunities to increase provision of affordable housing in rural communities
  • Developed and implemented the Rural Housing Needs Programme 2010-2013 to assess need in two parishes per year
  • Through partnership working with Kent Housing Group Developed a Kent wide rural protocol
  • Undertaken initial research to explore via the core strategy the option of an open market cross subsidy policy
  • Roll out the Rural Housing Needs Programme 2010-2013
  • Continue to work with Parish Councils beyond 2013 to develop this programme and understand housing need in rural areas
  • Work with rural communities and Housing Associations to develop 100% affordable housing on rural exception sites where housing need is established
  • Develop a standard S106 for rural developments to include a local connection cascade
  • Maximise opportunities for affordable housing in rural areas through the core strategy and SPD
  • Work with planning to develop a policy in relation to open market cross subsidy

Objective 2:

Improve housing condition and local neighbourhoods

Our PrioritiesWe have ...We will ...
Ensure households in rural areas are given advice and support regarding energy efficiency and affordable warmth
  • Supported Government initiatives on Affordable Warmth ensuring vulnerable households are aware of available schemes
  • Develop a communications plan to promote and engage with local rural communities
  • Promote and sign post to the affordable warmth service
  • Ensure rural homes that are in poor condition; including farm worker cottages are brought up to a decent standard through pro-active working with the Private Sector Team
Ensure balanced and sustainable communities in rural areas by providing affordable housing that meets need for local residents
  • Undertaken consultation through the Rural Housing Needs Programme and consulted with Parish Councils and the local community
  • Ensure continuous consultation with Parish Councils and rural communities to increase involvement in decision-making regarding any potential affordable housing development
  • Work closely with partner Housing Associations to ensure potential affordable housing developments are integrated appropriately and acceptably within the local community
  • Research innovative ways to increase rural affordable housing through the Core Strategy process
    Keep up to date with Community Right to Build initiatives undertaken across Swale

Objective 3:

Support vulnerable people

Our PrioritiesWe have ...We will ...
Provide a Rural Housing Strategy to support the Housing Strategy 2010 - 2015
  • Consulted with stakeholders and members of the public
  • Developed a Draft Rural Housing Strategy
  • Deliver the Rural Housing Strategy
  • Continue to consult with stakeholders and members of the public
Gain a clear understanding of the current and future housing needs of rural communities
  • Completed seven rural housing needs surveys since 2005
  • Undertaken two housing needs surveys as part of the Rural Housing Needs Programme 2010-2013
  • Through the continuation of the Rural Housing Needs Programme; complete a series of Housing needs surveys to gain a Borough wide picture of rural areas that require affordable housing
  • Where appropriate deliver a wide range of tenure options that reach Lifetime Homes Standards to meet the specific requirements of the local community; including households with a special need and older people
  • Provide targeted information for vulnerable households through direct mail

Objective 4:

Tackle Disadvantage and Improve Quality of Life

Our PrioritiesWe have ...We will ...
Ensure rural households have easy access to housing options advice and assistance from the Council and our partners
  • Through consultation seek to establish what gaps in accessing services currently exist for rural households
  • Through consultation seek to establish what means of communication rural households prefer
  • Ensured that information is readily available and accessible to rural communities
  • Through partnership working identify opportunities to improve access to housing services for rural communities; in particular vulnerable households
  • Work in partnership to better inform rural communities regarding affordable housing developments in rural areas by providing information on land used for these sites, anti-social behaviour and the approach taken regarding infrastructure to support the developments
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