Rural housing affordability and its consequences

This is a brief overview of part of a Colin Buchanan study for DEFRA which included case studies in four rural districts (Mid Sussex, South Shropshire, North Norfolk and Selby) involving focus groups (mainly made up of local residents with formal and informal roles in the village e.g. shopkeeper, school teacher) and household surveys

Rural housing affordability hinges a great deal around ‘within’ and ‘without’ affordability. Essentially, what are the consequences of the expectation that, on the one hand, housing within a village will meet local needs against the alternative expectation that access to affordable homes in nearby towns is sufficient? The case studies highlighted that the majority of respondents felt local housing was not affordable especially for young people and that supply issues, both in terms of the type of new housing built and approaches to the allocation of social/council housing were contributory factors. However, it was also recognised that while young people had had to move away from the village to find property, this move was often principally for employment reasons.

There were mixed views as to whether it was acceptable for local people to have to move from the village to access affordable housing. In Mid Sussex and Selby over 60% of respondents believed it was acceptable to move to the closest town or elsewhere within the district to obtain housing while in South Shropshire and Norfolk that proportion was 47% and 30% respectively. In general in the less transient and more dispersed case study areas it was significantly less acceptable for people to have to move away from their own village.

If people should not have to move away from their village, where should new housing be provided? The focus groups tended to oppose new building believing that in the past it had not met a local housing need and as a consequence they preferred alternative solutions. The vast majority of survey respondents felt that housing should be provided within or on the outskirts of the village but to meet the needs of local people. There was also little contradiction in peoples’ views. So, for example, North Norfolk residents believed it was least acceptable for people to have to move elsewhere in the district for their housing needs and were the most receptive to having new housing built locally. Whilst the residents of Mid Sussex were more receptive to people having to move to neighbouring towns and were the most likely to prefer new housing to meet local need being built in the closest town.

When asked how long they expect to remain in the village survey respondents in Mid Sussex were far more likely to move. Almost a third of respondents expected to move within ten years compared to less than a tenth in North Norfolk. Across all the districts, housing issues were the main reason for people considering moving – making up a third of reasons, suggesting that they did not expect that their future housing needs could be met locally. The next biggest reason for moving, in a fifth of cases was employment, followed by a desire to move closer to family members.

Social networks were found to be important in sustaining communities. This was in terms of the extent to which newcomers were considered active in village life and how this supported the village ‘life-cycle’ i.e. the balance between younger residents, families and older people. Life-cycle issues and their importance for the long term social sustainability of villages were raised consistently in the focus groups. It was felt that newcomers did not always support this through using local services (e.g. schools or by getting involved in the community even at the most basic level). In the surveys, residents who had lived in a village between 5-20 years typically socialised with more people than five years ago, suggesting that as time goes on newcomers’ circle of acquaintances increases within a fairly stable population as one might expect. It was clear that a village school or nursery and having children in general served as a ‘gateway’ to meeting people and forming networks.

However, amongst the longer standing residents i.e. those who had lived in the villages more than 20 years, over a fifth reported that they socialised with fewer people as time went on. Older residents reported friends moving away or dying and finding few opportunities to meet newcomers, with the loss of local facilities such as pubs and less church going among younger residents. This was a factor commented upon in the focus groups where there was a concern raised about a number of older residents living in near isolation. In some cases newcomers (wealthier commuters, second home owners, younger) were seen as being very different with little in common with existing (longer-term) residents.


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