Often the need to ease the housing supply is thought of in terms of grand projects – garden cities or big inner city regeneration schemes. But thinking small is also important, in cumulative terms, to secure new housing. Good progress has been made in reducing the number of (often derelict) empty homes.  The budget boosted the tax relief for renting a spare room.  Right to buy receipts are being used to provide “hidden homes” on council estates – where redundant garages, pram shed or boiler rooms currently sit unloved and sprayed with graffiti.

There are around 5,000 villages in the UK. A settlement with fewer than a hundred people might be regarded as a hamlet. One with more than 10,000 we would normally regard as a town whether it was officially or not. We sometimes see economists declare that for house prices to rise in line with inflation we “need” an extra 250,000 or 300,000 each year. As only around half that get built, prices get forced up to ever more excessive levels.

So the Government’s proposals for more rural housing – bigger villages – are, in principle, welcome.

The specific measures are as follows:

“The government will increase the availability of housing in rural areas, allowing our rural towns and villages to thrive, whilst protecting the Green Belt and countryside.

This will include a significant contribution to the 200,000 ‘Starter Homes’, to be offered at a 20% discount for first-time buyers under the age of 40, that the government is committed to delivering this Parliament.

Through the right combination of measures, the government
wants to ensure that any village in England has the freedom to expand in an incremental
way, subject to local agreement.

  • Ensure local authorities put local plans in place for housing according to agreed deadlines and require them to plan proactively for the delivery of Starter Homes.
  • The government will also bring forward proposals to speed up the process of implementing or amending a plan.
  • Help our villages to thrive by making it easier for them to establish a neighbourhood plan and allocate land for new homes, including through the use of rural exception sites to deliver Starter Homes.
  • Review the current threshold for agricultural buildings to convert to residential buildings.
  • Introduce a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements, to speed up negotiations and allow housing starts to proceed more quickly.”

There is also promise to speed up minor planning applications.

Rather than an attack on village life these proposals could sustain it. They could help keep the village pub and the village shop in business. Perhaps they might allow enough demand for a village school to open? Perhaps the local bus service might increase in frequency. The decline in attendance in the local church might be reversed. In a modern age more inhabitants are needed in a village for it to thrive.

The proviso is that the new homes must blend in. They must be of a design and built with materials that are sympathetic. That is the condition that residents should demand from their elected representatives.

Converting a barn into housing is already being made easier. Many barns look lovely. But why not allow large barns to be converted as well as middle sized barns? Why not allow a barn to be converted into four or five homes if it is large enough rather than a limit of three?

Most villages would benefit from an extra hundred beautiful cottages around their edges. Those struggling to buy a home would certainly appreciate an extra half a million properties coming onto the market.