Making a life in the country affordable

06 February 2019

With its rolling hills, meandering streams and colourful flora and fauna, there’s something quite magical about living in the countryside.

The picture postcard scene conjures images of bluebell-drenched woodlands, daffodil valleys and blue skies adorned by fluffy white clouds accompanied by bird song and the muffled sound of cattle grazing in the background. Sounds stunning, right?

While some of us dream of one day landing that idyllic rural retreat, you can be forgiven for casting it to one side because it is out of your financial reach.

Reports of a rural housing crisis only serve to reinforce the perception that living in a rural setting is totally unaffordable. The figures just don’t stack up.

Some blame house prices exceeding increases in local income, while others blame wealthy city workers snapping up holiday homes in the most stunning of locations, driving prices up and reducing choice.

The problem is highlighted in last year’s statistical digest of Rural England which revealed homes in rural areas cost 8.3 times the average wage compared with seven times in urban locations.

LiveWest, the region’s largest housing provider, has moved to address the rural housing crisis with a series of developments to help preserve rural communities and lay the foundations for people to remain living in the area they grew up in.

With the south west boasting some of the most picturesque countryside in England, affordable rural housing schemes are gathering increasing momentum.

By building new houses in the countryside, rural businesses such as the village pub, the post office, general convenience store and the bus service are able to survive, and in some cases, prosper.

Over the past three years, LiveWest has delivered 265 new homes in rural locations and are planning to build a further 422 between now and March 2021.

Its rural blueprint is part of the organisation’s ambitious plans to build 16,000 new homes over the next 10 years, which will see LiveWest spend £2billion across the region.

The company’s investment plans will sustain 6,500 jobs in the building and supply chain, protecting livelihoods and offering fresh opportunities.

LiveWest development director Nathan Cronk says despite the challenges of building in rural locations, it is imperative that steps are taken to ensure these communities continue to thrive.

He said: “We are absolutely committed to providing houses in rural areas and helping rural communities to succeed and flourish.

“We know there is a large gulf between the average rural house price and the average salary across the region, this makes affordability in the market a challenge.

“Generally speaking, developments in rural locations are smaller so you don’t get the economies of scale that you would get when building in larger settlements.

 “Alongside a range of affordable rental options, LiveWest is seeking ways to increase home ownership opportunities in rural areas.

“We are offering flexible means of living in rural locations and it is great to play a part in maintaining countryside living.”

The affordability of rural homes was thrown into sharp focus by the MORI Issues Index in March 2018, which found 24% of British adults living in rural areas named housing as one of the most important issues facing Britain.

And with the average annual pay being five per cent lower in rural areas compared to urban centres, it is easy to see why rural housing is a hot topic of debate.

Rural housing across the south west has been significantly boosted by the Devon Rural Housing Partnership – a body assessing the housing need in rural areas.

As a champion of rural housing schemes, the organisation supports rural communities by enabling the development of sufficient affordable properties to meet the needs and aspirations of local people.

LiveWest has demonstrated its commitment to rural housing with a number of schemes started and finished over the past two months.

The social landlord recently partnered with WestHaven Homes to support the delivery of 10 new homes in Thorverton, East Devon – the first affordable homes to become available in the village in recent memory.

LiveWest’s most recent rural housing scheme was unveiled before Christmas – a joint venture development with Galliford Try which provided 21 new homes for local people in St Breward, Cornwall.

The rationale behind the project was there were too few homes in the village to meet demand, potentially forcing residents to look for a home elsewhere.

It’s a classic example of where a housing provider has stepped in with an affordable housing offer to change the course of people’s lives.

Nathan added: “We realise the areas in which we operate are predominantly rural.

“What we don’t want to do is create a situation where people have to move out of our rural settlements to access a home. We want to make sure that we are providing homes so that people can remain living in the countryside, supporting the rural economy and sustaining rural communities.

“There have been changes in national planning policy which allows developers to increase land values to incentivise the release of building plots and enable increased delivery of affordable homes.

“Generally on any given development, this will see two or three open market homes enabling the provision of, typically, between 10 and 15 affordable homes.

“It’s those affordable properties which will be essential in helping to sustain rural communities, allowing people to stay living in their preferred location and we have successfully utilised this approach recently in rural communities such as Churchstow and Newton Ferrers in Devon and St Columb Major in Cornwall.

“Building the right kind of homes in the right places is a key commitment for LiveWest. Developments like this provide local people with high-quality homes in a location they want.

“In St Breward the opportunities to live there are few and far between and it is only when you build a development that you fully realise that there is a big demand for homes there.

“The development in St Breward is a great example of how we have helped to alleviate the housing crisis in a picturesque village by coming up with housing solutions.”

LiveWest has cast its net far and wide in a quest to play a role in safeguarding rural communities.

Developments across the region are underway in locations such as Horrabridge, Dartington, Dulverton, Goldsithney and Willand to name but a few.

And the housing provider has delivered its backing to the Government after it moved to halt the increase in second home ownership.

Nathan added: “The Government has responded to calls from the sector and has recognised that we have to find innovative ways to increase supply. 

“Although the rural economy relies, in part, on the income generated by second homes and other tourism, such developments need to be sympathetic to the needs of local people for a good supply of affordable homes and the maintenance of balanced and thriving communities.”