This article was published in Country Standard Summer 2013 page 9. "By John Gray UNISON Housing Association Branch Secretary and National Executive Council Member
Why is it that there is a massive shortage of rural housing when all Councillors support affordable housing yet not enough is built ? Is this because the government is not funding housing associations or Councils to build?
Despite the crocodile tears of Government ministers and many rural councils about the massive shortage of affordable homes in the countryside for local people, the reasons are actually pretty straight forward and can be solved.
Firstly, the Nimby’s (Not In My Back Yard) Brigade. Often you find that those who are adequately housed in attractive countryside don’t want more homes to be built that they think may spoil their view out of the garden conservatory. Especially if these homes are thought to house possible “working class people”!
Changes to planning law means that Councils are not obliged to insist on the building of affordable homes if they don’t want to - and many don’t, they simply don’t care, regardless of the need.
We also seem to think that converting large chunks of the so called “green belt” into huge, ugly exploitative factory farms, often set up solely to take advantage of generous EU and UK government subsidies is preferable to building some new homes.
The countryside has in too many areas been colonised by a blight of retirement bungalows and weekend second homes for our wealthy urban middle class elites. As well as wreaking village communities by destroying local schools, shops and pubs. This results also in the double whammy of a lack of supply of homes and a very high demand - which pushes up prices completely out of reach for those who do not have access to a wealthy Bank of Mum and Dad.
There is also far less existing social housing in rural areas than urban (13% compared to 22%) as well as low wages and lack of jobs. The disastrous government policy of the so called “affordable rents” regime for new properties (and in many cases the new lettings of existing stock) costing up to 80% of market rents compared to the traditional social rent of 50% of market rates is another death nail. The barking mad destruction of the Agricultural Wages Board which will even lower pay is yet another.
The Bankers crisis and the huge cuts in housing investment by this Tory Government have of course just made the problem far, far worse.
There is some hope for the future since it seems that there is antidotal evidence at least that Tory MPs are being button holed in their Conservative Association Clubs by angry members who are fed up with their kids living at home until in their thirties, since even their offspring cannot afford their own place.
There is also concern expressed that there is no “help” available anymore to clean their homes, do their gardens or serve their food and drink at the local posh restaurant.
There are signs that the Countryside is turning and there is a feeling that enough is enough. Labour Councillors are now being returned in Shire and district Council elections up and down the country. This month in rural Dorset we will celebrate the Tolpuddle Martyrs and remember a time when the countryside was at the forefront of radical politics.
Maybe, just maybe, our contemporary rural poverty and homelessness may spark something a little similar.