Sue Chalkley is the Chief Executive of the Hastoe Housing Association.
Many see the housing crisis as an urban problem. But homes are even more unaffordable in rural areas, with average house prices 20 per cent higher and local incomes 23 per cent lower than urban areas.
Put simply, rural England needs more homes for local people. At Hastoe, we know that many rural communities are ready and willing for these homes – provided we take the time to work with the community on the number of homes and the quality of the design. Too many rural communities have been scarred by poor experiences of housing development. Swathes of mediocre housing that have done long term damage to society’s psyche about housing development.
There is another way. In Parliament last month, George Freeman very kindly said, “All around the country, [Hastoe] has put together schemes with the support of local communities. It is doing more than anyone in rural housing to defeat nimbyism, because the quality of its developments is so high.” That is our approach in a nutshell. Hastoe only develops where a rural community has invited us to help meet their local housing need. We build high-quality, energy-efficient homes, that fit well with the local vernacular and genuinely meet community need.
Take our development in Holne on Dartmoor National Park. Seven homes were built for affordable rent. The Chair of CPRE Devon supported the application and the Chief Executive was pleased to open it. Quality design will increase support for new homes and give the community confidence about further development.
Another example is at Marsh Gibbon, near Bicester. The Parish Council approached Hastoe because of a lack of affordable rural housing – confirmed by a Housing Needs Survey. We built eight homes, a mix of affordable rent and shared ownership, reserved for local people.
Built in flint and brick, the scheme includes solar panels and thermal hot water systems. It shows you can mix modernity with quality, traditional designs. The local community love the development, providing affordable homes for local people – now and forever.
We receive many requests from villages for a second, third, even fourth, scheme. In West Dean, West Sussex, we are now discussing a fourth scheme with the community because the new homes have been so popular. Working with the landowner and local people, we have provided badly needed affordable homes in the second least affordable rural district in England.
I believe the Government can see the importance of quality design. Housing associations have a different model to private developers. We will be around for the long term and are not driven by profit. Quality matters to us and makes good long-term financial sense. By involving communities early on and, with them, designing sensitive, beautiful, energy-efficient homes, we can leave a lasting legacy for the community.
The Conservative Manifesto committed to “build better houses, to match the quality of those we have inherited from previous generations”. This is the way to boost support for new housing. Rural England can play a big part in solving our housing crisis. Let’s unlock that potential and build the quality, well-designed homes our rural communities need.