Pledge to change right-to-buy rule

By Farnham Herald in Planning

A LEADING affordable housing provider in Waverley is seeking to change new Right-to-Buy proposals that could have a damaging effect on rural communities.

English Rural Housing Association proposes to build 17 homes of which 12 would be designated as affordable on land at Orchard Farm, off Wormley Lane, in Hambledon.

It held a public exhibition of the plans in the village in January to get local feedback and is due to display details of its outline planning application shortly before submitting it to Waverley.

Operations director Martin Collett said: “English Rural is working with other housing associations to influence the detail of the voluntary agreement, which is being negotiated on our behalf by the National Housing Federation.

“Along with the wider rural sector we are advocating for a broad definition of rural, to make sure as many affordable homes as possible in villages are exempted from the policy.

“In its current form, the voluntary deal agreed between housing associations and government includes a rural exemption that covers most if not all of the homes English Rural owns and manages.

“We will be writing to parish council partners to confirm the position once the situation is clear. Subject to the requirements within the final arrangements, where tenants express a desire to access home ownership through Right-to-Buy we will though of course work with them to explore options available, but this will not include selling our properties that are covered by the rural exemption.”

The agreement between the government and National Housing Federation would only allow housing associations to exercise discretion in a few defined rural areas about whether or not to offer the Right-to-Buy to their tenants.

Rural organisations are calling for a full exemption from the new Right-to-Buy scheme for rural areas, rather than only a discretion not to sell homes.

Organisations including Rural Services Network (RSN), the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the National Association of Local Councils and Action with Communities in Rural England, are concerned that rural affordable housing lost to the open market is unlikely to be replaced and that a “portable discount” alternative will not help rural areas.

The organisations have warned that landowners will be reluctant to offer land for social housing if there are no guarantees it will remain affordable and not be sold on within a few years.

As the new “one for one” replacement homes can be anywhere in the country, the fear is that these are likely to be built in urban areas where development is quicker and cheaper.

The “portable discount” alternative to Right-to-Buy can only be used to buy another housing association’s property so this will only exacerbate the dwindling supply of affordable housing in rural communities.

These proposals risk reducing the low levels of affordable housing in rural areas (eight per cent compared with 20 percent in towns and cities) even further.

Earlier this year, RSN chief executive Graham Biggs warned extending the Right-to-Buy could lead to the complete lack of affordable housing in some communities.

This would be the case where tenants bought existing homes and no further properties were delivered.

Mr Biggs said: “Extending the Right-to-Buy will remove the opportunity for individuals and families on low incomes to live in rural areas - undermining the social and economic viability of our rural communities.”

CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: “The Government must introduce a full exemption for rural communities from the right to buy - otherwise it risked making rural living the exclusive preserve of those who can afford expensive market housing.”

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