Unless we build affordable homes, villages will no longer be living, working communities

Journal columnist Kate Thick says tackling the housing crisis - and doing so fairly - must be the priority for the next Government

Belsay village
Belsay village

In the rich world 60 million people spend more than 30% of their income on housing while in the emerging world 200 million households live in slums.

Look in the window of estate agents in Morpeth and you will see lots of beautiful houses for sale in Northumberland. Who can afford to buy them? According to the National Housing Federation, house prices in rural England are 11 times the average salary. North East Home Truths, a report looking at the housing and the economic challenges in the region, says thousands are on housing waiting lists across Northumberland.

About 250,000 new homes are need every year in England, last year just 119,000 were completed. The North East - where the housing shortage is part of a broader community crisis of people living in poverty unable to access secure jobs - needs 3,800 affordable new homes yearly to meet demand. Every new home built in the North East adds £80,532 to the regional economy and creates 1.9 jobs according to the National Housing Federation’s Home Truths 2014/15 report.

Unless we build affordable homes, villages will no longer be living, working communities. Attitudes are changing, but local protest mounts as soon as a village housing development is proposed. The protest is not just ‘nimbyism’; as The Journal covered recently, the local planning process is in urgent need of coherence, inclusiveness and streamlining.

Cameron’s insane policy to remove from local authorities the power to require affordable homes on sites of less than 10 homes will halve annual rural affordable housing provision. The next government must quickly spell out a national policy to sensibly and fairly tackle the housing crisis.

Property developers get away with building expensive, large houses rather than the one or two-bedroom homes needed by the young or elderly. Younger people are forced away from rural areas, away from their roots and elderly relatives. More rural retirement homes are needed so older people can pass on farm holdings to the next generation.

The controversy on green belt boundaries to allow for new homes around Newcastle is reflected in outlying rural communities concerned about land around their villages being allocated for housing.

With that in mind, I asked Laura de Wesselow of Belsay Estate, my very hard-working landlady, about her plans to build 20 plus houses on a field at the Whalton side of the village. Laura is adamant that commercial development and affordable housing are essential if rural communities are to thrive economically and socially in years to come. Laura faces a complex consultation and planning process and feels a huge responsibility as the land owner. Belsay Estate, with its school and shop, is in need of a capital injection. Laura wants controlled development, for Belsay to have a viable future, and for the residents and parish council to be on board. She knows there are risks and battles ahead. I wish her well.

I hope builders and developers have taken note of the award-winning ‘super-green’ homes sprouting up in rural Northumberland. It is baffling that new builds are not required to have solar panels or some internal heat source, especially as the North East has one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country.

Taking the pressure off the green belt, innovative and eco-minded regeneration schemes are happening in Newcastle and Northumbrian towns. When I cycle through Jarrow and see acres of derelict buildings, I cannot understand why the focus of development is not there rather than on urban sprawl.

There is thinking outside the box. Families unable to afford somewhere to live are clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation in a new trend as communities are forced to find their own solution; more than a million new homes could be built over the next decade if each of the 353 councils in England built just one garden village of 3,000 new houses, according to a new report by the think-tank Policy Exchange; IKEA of Sweden sells flat-pack houses that can be customised and companies in Germany and Mexico help people self-build homes that can be reconfigured as family needs change. Excellent methinks.

Look out for Homes for Britain, a campaign which has united the whole housing sector and is calling for all political parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation.

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