Build-on-countryside mandate condemned
The Government signalled a house-building boom in the countryside after councils were urged to lift "blanket" bans on rural development.
New planning guidance published by ministers yesterday argues affordable homes are essential to a "thriving rural community in a living, working countryside".
The edict from the Department for Communities and Local Government goes on to say that "blanket policies restricting housing development ... should be avoided".
Westcountry MP Andrew George condemned the "let rip" strategy, arguing it is the "complete opposite" to what is needed to make houses affordable to local people.
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With the cost of a property nearly 16 times the average wage in rural and coastal Cornwall and Devon, many families feel squeezed out.
New planning guidelines, published online yesterday, will also impose a duty on town halls to keep close tabs on local house prices and rents. If they soar out of reach of the lowest 25% of earners in their area to service a mortgage or pay rent, they must construct new homes ordinary people can afford.
Meanwhile, heavily trailed was the Government's desire to get more bungalows built to deal with a "critical" problem in housing Britain's elderly.
Planning Minister Nick Boles, who grew up in Devon, has repeatedly stated that vast swathes of countryside should be offered up to new developments to ease the affordable housing crisis, much to the ire of rural campaigners.
Yesterday he said: "Just as there is a legal obligation for authorities to provide school places and healthcare to everyone who needs it, so too they must now provide affordable homes.
"If you have a normal job, as a plumber or a van driver, it has become significantly harder for you to buy your own home in the last 15 years. House prices are out of reach for many."
He argues just 9% of land in the UK is developed, and increasing the footprint by a fraction would prompt greater house-building.
But Mr George, MP for St Ives, warned building in the countryside has merely seen an increase in luxury homes for second homeowners.
He said: "This is the complete opposite of what the countryside needs. The best way to solve the affordable housing crisis in rural areas is to stop all development and use the exceptions policy – only build when exceptional need can be demonstrated.
"A let-rip strategy does not work. What Nick Boles wants to do is what places including Cornwall have been doing for 30, 40 years. So we are not Nimbys. House-building has doubled but we still have the problems. What it is doing is putting greed before need."
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) also warned the "affordability test" risked failing.
Ollie Miller, housing campaigner at CPRE, said: "Councils need more powers to decide the type of new housing needed in their area and where it should be located. Yet, the new test risks yet more countryside being built on unnecessarily, against the wishes of local communities."