RADICAL proposals to provide affordable rural housing were outlined yesterday in a major report now being considered by Tory leader David Cameron.
The Conservative quality of life review group called for a planning shake-up so housing can be built in villages where locals are struggling to get a foot on the property ladder.
It also suggests imposing tough residency tests to curb the number of second homes bought in rural areas.
The reports also demands planning changes to allow rural business to develop and greater support for local post offices by maintaining their £150m-a-year subsidy.
Peter Atkinson, Tory MP for Hexham, said: “In the North-East there would seem to me to be scope for attractive and sensible development which would enhance communities,” although he stressed developers needed to make a contribution to the cost of infrastructure.
But Mr Atkinson questioned the possibility of a residency test, saying second homeowners could benefit the local community.
Berwick MP Alan Beith hit out at the housing plans, saying: “We are still suffering in rural areas from the sale of council houses and the fact that money was not put back into more social housing in rural areas. So we are still suffering from the previous Tory Government’s policies.”
Second homes were a major problem in some areas, but the proposals needed close scrutiny, warned the Liberal Democrat MP.
Richard Dodd, regional spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said it was vital that affordable homes for locals were built in villages. He stressed that providing affordable housing was vital to underpinning local services, with schools and post offices currently under threat.
The Tory review’s proposals were set in a lengthy report, which warned action was needed to stop the countryside becoming the “preserve” of the rich.
Residents could be asked whether they want to introduce a residency rule, with people only allowed to buy homes if they lived in them for at least 200 days a year under the proposals, which are not official Tory policy but are now being considered by Mr Cameron.
The review also said property owners wanting to redevelop old farm buildings and build on agricultural land could be encouraged to dedicate that to affordable housing for local people.
Planning changes are needed to allow local firms to develop to secure the rural economy and boost employment, added the review.
The report further warned action was needed to address a “fundamental” breakdown of trust between rural communities and Whitehall. And regional government – including development agencies – should be scrapped and powers handed to councils.
Parish councils could take on additional responsibilities, currently performed by larger councils, either on their own or as part of a group of parishes. The review warned against a wholesale reorganisation of local government, as backed by ministers, but supported greater co-operation between councils.