With the rural housing crisis at the top of the political agenda, Andrew Mernin found out what is being done to overcome it in the North-East.
EVER since Gordon Brown climbed to the helm of government earlier this year, the issue of affordable housing has been a constant topic of discussion for the Prime Minister.
As council house waiting lists continue to grow, the Government plans to build three million homes by 2020.
In rural areas it is estimated 11,000 new affordable homes a year are needed.
One company in the region playing its part in tackling the rural housing crisis is Northumbrian Water.
It has signed up to take part in a pilot scheme in which it reviews land in its operating area to find redundant sites near rural areas to be used for affordable homes.
The 12-month scheme is spearheaded by The Prince of Wales and managed by Business in the Community – a movement of 700
firms that aims to improve the positive
impact of businesses on society. As well as Northumbrian Water, nine other large water companies are playing their part in the Affordable Rural Housing Initiative, including Yorkshire Water, Severn Trent Water and Thames Water.
Although the scheme is in its early stages, Northumbrian Water says things are going well and it has outlined a number of sites in and around Kielder, Northumberland.
Managing director John Cuthbert said: “For Northumbrian Water the business case is clear.
“Our aim is to maximise the long-term value of our assets, enabling affordable homes to be built in the communities we serve and encouraging environmentally sustainable design in the process.”
Northumbrian Water is also looking to carry out the project in Southern England in Essex and Suffolk, where the company also operates. One of the major barriers to delivering affordable homes is a lack of affordable land.
According to the initiative, if each company finds just one suitable site, it will have an enormous impact on the communities that desperately need them.
Sites outlined by the project will be sold or offered to developers on a long-term lease.
When the project was launched last December, the Prince of Wales said: “I am absolutely delighted with the response of the water companies to my Affordable Rural Housing Initiative.
“They have recognised that the lack of affordable housing is having a devastating impact on our rural communities and innovative ideas such as this are essential if rural life as we know it is to survive. The water companies are perfectly placed to help provide new homes where they are needed and I do congratulate them.”
Business in the Community’s affordable rural housing director Emily Trevorrow said: “Business in the Community applauds the water sector for working collaboratively to tackle this pressing rural issue.
“By joining forces, businesses can make an enormous contribution to society.”
The lack of affordable homes has been a problem in rural areas for decades, but has reached crisis point in recent years.
One of the main reasons for this has been an increase in people buying holiday homes and pricing locals out of the market.
Also development on greenfield sites is restricted and right-to-buy schemes in the 1980s have led to a shortage of social housing.
According to the National Housing Federation, in some parts of the North-East rural house prices have risen to more than 10 times average local earnings.