Affordable housing crisis to have renewed focus with new council

This story was published 28 June 2022

Countryside communities at the epicentre of a housing crisis will be put at the forefront of planning policies to shape strategies for new homes, the chairman of a rural taskforce has pledged.

A landscape view of Richmondshire

The affordable homes crisis in North Yorkshire is particularly accentuated in the county’s rural areas, with the most desirable locations commanding property prices that far outstrip average wages.

Members of the North Yorkshire Rural Taskforce have met to discuss an action plan to tackle a host of issues blighting countryside communities, from a lack of public transport, poor internet and mobile phone coverage and the need to introduce more sustainable energy supplies.

However, the issue of providing more affordable homes was one of the key subjects discussed by the taskforce, with calls for planning policies to take into account the need for more rural housing when a new council in North Yorkshire is launched.

The chairman of the rural taskforce, Richard Flinton, who is the chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “The issue of affordable housing has long been a problem affecting countryside areas not just in North Yorkshire, but across the whole of the country.

“But we fully recognise that to ensure rural communities can remain sustainable in the future, there needs to be a greater focus on providing homes that people can actually afford.

“The launch of a new council in North Yorkshire provides us with an opportunity to have a renewed focus on issues such as the affordable housing crisis, and every effort will be made to shape planning policies to cater for the need to bring more homes into rural parts of the county.”

The taskforce was established in the wake of the publication of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission’s final report in July last year.

One of the commission’s key recommendations was for an urgent need to tackle the affordable housing crisis to allow people to remain in the rural communities where they grew up, and prevent an exodus of young people from the countryside.

House prices in the Yorkshire Dales are about a third higher than the county’s average. The average cost of a property in the Dales is nearly £400,000, while the weekly wage in North Yorkshire is just over £530.

There is a high demand for second homes, increasing the strain on an already limited housing stock. According to the National Housing Federation, there are 8,199 second homes in North Yorkshire – the highest number in the region.

The independent Rural Commission, which we established in the autumn of 2019, called for the Government to revise the formula for designating affordable housing so that it reflects average income and not the market value of properties in an area.

Its final report also highlighted the need for reforms to allow us to have the power to levy a charge on second homes to be used to finance affordable housing.

Commissioners also stated that each parish in rural North Yorkshire should build five houses over a 10-year period, with 40 per cent of the new properties either classed as affordable housing or available for rental.

During the latest meeting of the rural taskforce, the North York Moors National Park Authority’s director of planning, Chris France, said there needed to be a “step-change” in the focus on rural housing.

He called for the new North Yorkshire Council, which will launch on April 1 next year, to have planning policies which have a greater emphasis on introducing more affordable housing in rural areas.

The biggest shake-up in local government in North Yorkshire in nearly half a century is currently being undertaken to pave the way for a devolution deal, which the Rural Commission highlighted as vital for the future prosperity of the county. 

The Government has stipulated that a key requirement for any devolution deal for North Yorkshire is for the current two-tier system of local government, with the county council and seven district and borough councils, to be replaced by a single unitary authority. City of York Council will continue as a unitary authority to run in tandem with the new North Yorkshire Council.

A deal to hand over decision-making powers and tens of millions of pounds in funding to political leaders in York and North Yorkshire is currently being negotiated with the Government, with an announcement on an offer for devolution expected this summer before public consultations are staged later in the year.

The meeting of the rural taskforce also heard that a series of sessions are being held next month to highlight its work to a range of organisations.

The first session will focus on rural housing, before other events will highlight efforts to improve rural transport links and also countryside schools.

Each of the sessions will include at least one member of the Rural Commission and between three and five other external organisations.

A final report is due to be published by the taskforce later this year outlining how the Rural Commission’s recommendations can be taken forward.

The Rural Commission itself met 20 times, taking evidence from more than 70 participants, including MPs and government officials. Three visits were made to rural communities, while 27 written submissions were considered.

Among the commission’s most radical proposals were the levy on the owners of second homes, and an overhaul of the Government’s funding formula for both education and housing.

The county’s economy also needs to be heavily focused on the green energy sector, according to the commissioners.