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The rural housing question

The rural housing question: Community and planning in Britain's countrysides

Madhu Satsangi
Nick Gallent
Mark Bevan
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  • Book Info
    The rural housing question
    Book Description:

    For the past century, governments have been compelled, time and again, to return to the search for solutions to the housing and economic challenges posed by a restructuring countryside. The rural housing question is an analysis of the complexity of housing and development tensions in the rural areas of England, Wales and Scotland. It analyses a range of topics: from attitudes to rural development, economic change, land use, planning and counter-urbanisation; through retirement and ageing, leisure consumption, lifestyle shifts and homelessness; to public and private house building, private and public renting and community initiatives. Across this spectrum of concerns, it attempts to isolate the fundamental tensions that give the rural housing question an intractable quality. The book is aimed at policy makers, researchers, students and anyone with an interest in the future of the British countryside.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-386-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. List of figures, tables and images
    (pp. vi-vi)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Tony Champion

    There is a housing crisis in rural Britain that is threatening the future prospects for the ‘living, working countryside’ ostensibly championed by governments across Britain in the early 21st century. Unlike a century ago when it was housing quality that was seen as the main problem, the key issues today revolve around availability and cost and focus especially on the affordability of housing for those who work in the countryside and their families. Even so, this is not something that has taken us entirely by surprise, far from it. Thirty years ago Mark Shucksmith (1981: 11) already felt able to...

  3. Part I: Introducing the rural housing question

    • ONE The rural housing question
      (pp. 3-8)

      This book is about housing in rural Britain¹: the countrysides of England, Scotland and Wales. As its title suggests, it focuses on what can broadly be described as the ‘rural housing question’. But what is this question and why is it important? Is the question about the quantity or quality of housing being planned for and being supplied in rural areas? Is it about the price of housing and who is able to access it? Is it about the state of rural economies, rural employment and the capacity of people to find a deposit for a home and subsequently pay...

    • TWO The British countryside: nostalgia, romanticism and intervention
      (pp. 9-18)

      Popular conceptions of rurality are not accidental, nor are they natural representations of fact. Rather they are evolving social constructs, based in part on received remembrance of a past, and in equal part on antipathy to the dual opposite of the urban set against idealisations of the rural. The media – literature, painting, film, TV, radio and newspapers – have all transmitted and reinforced these idealisations. Rural spaces and places have a number of associated visual images that have popular resonance amongst both residents and tourists. A recent book of photographs by Somerville (2001) is one of many to grace...

    • THREE Protecting and consuming the countryside
      (pp. 19-30)

      Historical tradition and popular myth concerning the British countrysides have had a powerful impact on policy discourse. The countrysides of England, Scotland and Wales have been shaped not only by economic forces, but also by the values of those who believe that rural areas should be used and enjoyed in a particular way. Understanding of the countryside, as we saw in the last chapter, is moulded by a degree of retrospection: a sense of nostalgia for rural life. In this chapter, we develop the themes introduced in Chapter 2 by considering how the planning system today – and the evolution...

    • FOUR Evolving agendas in rural housing
      (pp. 31-44)

      The last two chapters have explored how representations of the countryside have been translated into national and local planning approaches – informing the system of statutory landscape protection and shaping attitudes to ‘preservation’ – which lend support to protection in a context of increasing consumption of the countryside. However, interwoven throughout this chronology of policy frameworks have been various attempts to take stock of, and reflect upon, policy outcomes. These reviews have provided a series of snapshots of how problems have been defined and the assessments that have been made of the demand and supply pressures in rural localities, including...

    • FIVE Housing and the rural economy
      (pp. 45-54)

      Neither in Britain, nor in its sister states in the EU and OECD, nor indeed globally, is concern for the downward trajectories of many rural economies a new phenomenon. In the rapidly urbanising, developing world, rural depopulation has been seen as an almost inevitable correlate of national economic progress. For many of these countries, there is an at least tacit acceptance of rural areas as ‘backward’. In the advanced economies, where counter-urbanisation has been much more the norm for at least four decades, low-wage rural populations are seen to experience two sorts of problem – differential capacity for economic growth...

  4. Part II: People and movement in rural areas

    • SIX New residents in rural areas
      (pp. 57-68)

      In the early decades of the 20th century, the majority of rural areas were losing population. This pattern of change in some parts of Britain had been established much earlier on. In Highland Scotland, for example, many clan chiefs who had come to see themselves as landlords forcibly cleared their former clanspeople from their homes seeking general ‘improvement’ through commercial farming and forestry. Gaelic-speaking communities were particularly severely affected with those displaced either emigrating or being moved to townships in areas of poorer quality land. Clearance and enclosure also became a feature of feudal Lowland Scotland. Something similar had happened...

    • SEVEN Retirement and ageing
      (pp. 69-78)

      An ageing society represents a particular set of challenges and opportunities for Britain’s countrysides. The population of rural areas is ageing more rapidly than in towns and cities. Although urban centres are likely to eventually catch up, there is pressure to respond more rapidly in the countryside in terms of how services may be configured in the future to meet this trend. As highlighted in the previous chapter, migration is a key driver of change in the social composition of rural areas. However, the development of an ageing population in these locations is not just down to migration decisions made...

    • EIGHT Buying second homes
      (pp. 79-90)

      Second homes have almost invariably been painted as the wreckers of rural communities in Britain. One of the most trenchant critics of second home purchasing, the journalist George Monbiot, argued that owners of second homes were ‘amongst the most selfish people’ in the country (Monbiot, 2006). In earlier analyses of the topic, he had drawn a direct relationship between the number of second homes across England, Scotland and Wales and the number of people accepted as homeless, arguing that a similarity in the numbers ‘is no coincidence’ (Monbiot, 1999). Whether or not there is any direct relationship, or whether second...

    • NINE International migrants
      (pp. 91-100)

      Until the early 21st century, the movement of international migrants into rural areas of Britain had been a limited feature of any population gains. However, the arrival of migrant workers subsequent, in particular, to the enlargement of the European Union in 2004 significantly reshaped the patterns of international migration flows. A key dimension of these movements was their scale. For the first time, many rural localities in Britain hosted significant migrant populations (Robinson and Reeve, 2006). Similarly, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion (2007) highlighted that the particular challenges facing rural localities were due to the ‘newness of diversity’ in...

  5. Part III: Planning, housing supply and local need

    • TEN Planning and land for housing
      (pp. 103-110)

      In the mid-1990s, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown commissioned a report on planning, housing supply and the economy. The Barker Review (HM Treasury, 2004) was prompted by concern that Britain’s economic performance was being held back by planning constraints affecting particularly the allocation of land for housing. The Review, and a number of commentaries alongside it, suggested that there was indeed evidence to support such a correlation and that compared to its counterparts elsewhere in Europe, or the OECD, Britain has endured persistently low housing supply elasticity. That is, that UK housing plc tends not to bring new...

    • ELEVEN Private house-building
      (pp. 111-124)

      The provision of new housing in rural Britain has, apart from during a very short period, been the result of private sector activity. Councils, housing associations and other registered social landlords have of course commissioned new housing but have done little direct building themselves. The structure, conduct and performance of the private house-building industry therefore has a crucial bearing on supply and, particularly, on supply responsiveness. In both academic and policy commentary, there are commonly critiques of the industry for its ways of working and for the quality of its outputs. Yet, particularly in the thin markets that typify many...

    • TWELVE Planning and affordable rural housing
      (pp. 125-140)

      An important tactical solution to the shortage of reasonably priced housing in some locations is the use of the planning system to procure affordable homes through development control. An obvious answer to the basic question of how affordable housing (affordable to median local wage-earners) should be provided, where it is needed, is surely through some sort of subsidy on construction cost, whether the land to be built on is in private or public hands. Essentially, part of government’s ‘welfare’ spending should go towards the provision of affordable homes.

      This obvious model of direct provision was the norm for much of...

    • THIRTEEN Targeting ‘local’ needs
      (pp. 141-152)

      One of the most revealing tactics for addressing housing supply pressures in rural areas is the selective targeting of ‘local’ needs. It involves giving priority access to ‘local people’ – households with a ‘local connection’ or those working locally – for new homes, whether these are for rent, for shared ownership or for outright purchase. Priority access to specified groups is often a requirement, written into a planning obligation, where affordable housing is delivered through an exceptional permission or secured as a planning gain within a private development. In some instances, occupancy conditions have been attached to all new housing...

  6. Part IV: Tenure and policy intervention

    • FOURTEEN Social renting
      (pp. 155-168)

      Renewed support for direct housing provision by local authorities, noted in Chapter 12, appeared to be gaining momentum in policy and academic circles in the early years of this century (Monk and Ni Luanaigh, 2006). In the rural context, having a wider variety of mechanisms available is valuable, not just an attempt to lever a higher rate of non-market housing into communities, but also to provide alternative ways of overcoming the inherent difficulties of developing affordable housing in such localities. Despite post-1990s’ policy exhorting a range of social rented and intermediate options in developments (for example, DCLG, 2006a), such intermediate...

    • FIFTEEN Private renting
      (pp. 169-178)

      A key theme from the previous chapter was that the provision of a wide range of options to rent or buy, or to acquire property on an intermediate basis, would help to facilitate access to housing for lower-income groups in rural localities. Part of this range of options stems from the privately rented sector (PRS). From the 1980s onwards, policy-makers have tended to see the valid contribution that private landlords can play in terms of delivering affordable housing solutions. Perhaps an ideal scenario in the future would be one in which the question ‘Which tenure does a housing provider belong...

    • SIXTEEN Rural low-cost home ownership
      (pp. 179-192)

      Although no country of Britain is yet entirely a ‘nation of homeowners’, each has seen a movement in this direction for several decades. The level of home ownership in Britain as a whole is one of the highest in Europe, built on (until the 2007/08 credit crunch) accessible mortgage credit and fuelled by a house-building sector that has perfected the art of erecting identical starter homes (almost invariably two-bed semis) on greenfield sites up and down Britain. In some rural markets, levels of private ownership come very close to 100 per cent, as a result of: early movement away from...

    • SEVENTEEN Homelessness
      (pp. 193-204)

      Previous chapters have highlighted not only the roles played by different tenures, but also some of the mechanisms for bringing forward greater housing choice for lower-income groups. One of the costs of not providing sufficient housing is the number of people who fall out of, or can never gain access to, mainstream housing in the countryside. In this respect, homelessness represents the clearest expression of failure within rural housing systems. Homelessness thus represents a key indicator of social and economic stress, and demands attention to alleviate its condition. Yet rural homelessness has had to struggle to find a way into...

  7. Part V: Answering the rural housing question

    • EIGHTEEN Strategic and community initiatives in Britain’s countrysides
      (pp. 207-222)

      That the need for affordable housing in rural areas is recognised is not in doubt, but policy instruments for achieving an accelerated supply of new homes have been overshadowed by a broader and pervasive philosophy of ‘protecting the countryside’ in response to a long-standing ‘resource’ perspective of rural areas, given new impetus by claims that protection delivers sustainability, and accentuated by post-war counter-urbanisation. Migration into rural areas has placed huge pressure on the rural housing stock, but it has also transformed perceptions of what rural areas are for, and for whom. Consumption interests have come to dominate many areas, resisting...

    • NINETEEN England, Scotland and Wales in context
      (pp. 223-236)

      How does the situation in England, Scotland and Wales compare with that found in other countries? In particular, how do different governments address their own rural housing questions; what are the prevailing attitudes to rural resources and rural development; and are approaches found elsewhere rationalised by a broad developmental or environmental perspective of ‘the countryside’? Throughout this book, we have implied that collectively (but not withstanding local differences) England, Scotland and Wales provide a unique or at least an ‘extreme’ case, with planning restriction creating a hostile environment for development generally and residential development more specifically. This, we have suggested,...

    • TWENTY The rural housing question: towards an answer
      (pp. 237-242)

      We began this book by posing a series of questions about the supply of housing in Britain’s countrysides, its quality, its location, its connection with the state of rural economies and rural society, and whether patterns of supply deliver social equity as well as sustainability. We asked also about some of the key pressures on housing resources, emanating from patterns of retirement, second home purchasing and from general migration to and from different rural areas. And finally, we alluded to more fundamental questions that bind all other concerns together: how representations of the countryside find expression in attitudes towards development...

  8. APPENDIX: Defining rurality
    (pp. 243-248)