Could Devolution liberate North Yorkshire to tackle its most stubborn problems?

Considering the topic of housing, North Yorkshire’s Rural Commission has heard that national strategy does not support the needs of small rural areas.

The panel give evidence to the Rural Commission

The eight independent commissioners heard a range of evidence pointing to significant issues with national housing policy being designed around built-up and metropolitan areas and not around supporting smaller scale solutions.

Evidence included Homes England having a grant scheme that doesn’t support small scale rural developments, issues around social housing rents being fixed at rates that disadvantage tenants in high-value areas and council tax bands being disproportionately higher in the north than the south. All – it was said - impact on the affordability of housing in North Yorkshire.

Speaking after the evidence sessions yesterday (26 February), Commission Chair, The Very Rev. John Dobson DL said: “We have heard that devolution of powers has made a big difference in places like Scandinavia and Germany, particularly regarding getting control over critical things like raising finance locally.

“So one of the big questions from this session is the role of effectively implemented devolution and whether it could unblock the structural failures we have heard about.

“Could it be harnessed to provide room to flex some of the planning sticking points and help us redefine what it means to live in North Yorkshire?

“It’s clear that everything about supporting rural communities is more expensive and often not supported by national approaches and strategies. That concerns me - are we saying as a nation we cannot afford to support our rural communities?”

Giving evidence in the first session, Gail Teasdale, above, Chief Executive Officer of Broadacres Housing Association, said: “The hardest challenge is getting land in the right places and at the right price to support the development of housing for the future. That housing is about ensuring rent is affordable so people can live, work and retire in rural areas. It is a fact that it is more expensive to build on a small scale and even more so in very rural areas which means our partnership working with Homes England and other partners is so important.

“Alongside that there are big pressures around building houses fit for the future. By that I mean homes that are future-proofed to face the challenge of climate change whilst also being carbon neutral to meet modern energy efficiency standards with fuel bills people can afford.”

There was a focus, too, on creative solutions to some of the issues which stand in the way of providing local level housing solutions that encourage families to live in them in a county with high house prices, high levels of second homes and an aging population.

Sophie Michelena, above, Development Manager of Locality, a national membership network of community organisations and part of the national partnership Community Led Homes, said: “One solution is mixed developments of housing for sale and rent; parish councils could be enablers for community ownership of land and housing, or even developers themselves. We could offer more support for existing community organisations to help them move into housing development, as is currently happening in Craven through the Community Housing Fund.

“And community-led housing structures and processes can remove concerns over perceptions that development may be to the detriment of the area. It can also be more successful in retaining and attracting the families that communities often need to survive and thrive.”

Rural Commissioner Martin Booth has significant experience of that community-led housing solution. He is one of around 200 residents of Hudswell in the Yorkshire Dales National Park where the community has not only taken over the pub and shop but provided a small number of affordable homes helping families to remain in the village and with the aim of helping new families to settle there:

“We received grants to help with the preparations around planning and design and a finance loan to help us achieve the build,” said Martin. “With other grants, loans, use of our own charity reserves and a lot of hard work we have achieved our goal. It can be done and because it involved the community the end result is all the more valuable.”

The commission also heard that housing is one important part of a much bigger jigsaw. Access to work, wages, skills and transport are all part of the solution to thriving rural communities alongside the single most important factor of broadband and mobile infrastructure. All of these topics are being considered by the commission as they sit over the coming months.

Background

85 per cent of North Yorkshire is classed as very rural or super sparse and The Rural Commission was set up in autumn 2019 by North Yorkshire County Council to try and identify ways to help these communities to grow and prosper. 

The commission is an independent body and over an eight-month period commissioners are  examining the following themes in depth, Farming and Food, Economy and Jobs, Housing, Education, Schools and Training, Transport, Accessibility – broadband and mobile and Energy & Environment.

The purpose and aims of the Rural Commission are to:

  • Later this year (2020) they will recommend the actions that local partners should take over the next 10, 20 and 30 years in order to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.
  • Improve the evidence base and arguments that will enable local partners to make the case successfully for increased government support to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.
  • The panel is aided by a reference group of key stakeholders which includes the leaders of the district councils in North Yorkshire, the two national park authorities in the county and North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership

More information

Discover more about the Rural Commissioners.

This story was published 27 February 2020