Sir Andrew Motion (President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England) wrote eloquently on the issue of affordable rural housing in yesterday's Telegraph. Motion is correct that the current ratio of one new build to each 'right to buy' home built, which is 1:9, makes a mockery of Government plans to replace on a 1:1 basis. But he goes further, pointing out that even if the one for one ratio was achieved, there would be no guarantee that the 'replacement' would be in a rural location, let alone within the same community of the 'original' property sold on.
The Government already accepts that housing is less affordable in predominantly rural areas than in urban areas - see DCLG publication "Rural Housing Availability and Affordability" (March 2014) which states that, in 2012, the average lower quartile house price was 7.9 times average earnings in the countryside, compared with 7.1 in predominantly urban areas or 7.4 in England as a whole: As such, Motion's point about the gap between prices and wages in rural areas is, patently, well made. It seems that, absent real pressure by rural community leaders and rural businesses who depend on local labour (whether skilled or unskilled), the nation's politicians and decision makers will continue to give as much thought to the changing face of our rural communities and the affordability and availability of rural housing as they have to date. That is, not nearly enough.
Just eight per cent of homes in rural areas are now judged to be affordable; in urban areas the figure is 20 per cent. And when compared to the national average, house prices in rural areas are already higher, and rural wages are lower, and the gap between them is growing. This makes a mockery of the Government’s plans to replace affordable homes to rent with “starter homes” to buy – at nine times the median salary of rural workers. In fact these plans will only exacerbate an already very difficult situation.