The planning experts

The need for affordable housing in Hampshire

South Warnborough

Chris Griffin

We spend much of our time fighting Government's demands for housing numbers beyond what is needed locally. "Why should we provide housing for people who will probably be moving into the area, putting pressure on our infrastructure, including schools and health services, as well as on the countryside which we campaign to protect?" is a thought that can come to mind. Yes, our countryside needs protection for those people who are lucky enough to live in and enjoy it, and we have a responsibility to protect it for future generations. Many of us have sufficient income to afford to live here. But many do not.

CPRE has been active in the affordable housing debate, particularly rural affordable housing. Its positive attitude was rewarded by membership of the Affordable Rural Housing Commission, which was largely adopted by all parties in government.

The countryside has been actively managed by local people for centuries, ploughing, harvesting, looking after livestock, etc. If they do not have homes that go with the job, their income will rarely pay a mortgage, particularly now. For each rural employee, there will be dependents. Affordable family homes are always in short supply, and often only available in a nearby town. CPRE has both a self-interest and a wider responsibility to protect this lifestyle as well as the natural and man-managed resource that is our countryside.

Most of rural Hampshire has been relieved of the need to provide huge numbers of new homes. If we can accept the need for some affordable homes, CPRE is ideally placed to concentrate on ensuring that it FITS into the countryside. DESIGN is all-important, particularly the local vernacular style. In much of Hampshire the materials are local mid-red brick, sometimes in association with fl int. Window design is also important, with arches of the correct dimension above windows of small but longer panes than usually found in recent 'Georgian' windows.

Most affordable housing in rural Hampshire is built in 'rural exception sites', where planning conditions are relaxed so that a few homes can be built specifically for rental or shared ownership, and must be kept as such 'in perpetuity'. Most are now built by HARAH, the Hampshire Alliance for Rural Affordable Housing. Founder members, in 2005, were the Rural Housing Enablers, the then Housing Corporation and the six non-metropolitan local authorities. To reduce the complexity and delays in providing much-needed rural housing, the government encouraged a selection process whereby one affordable housing provider could develop all rural housing in an area. Hyde Martlet won the commission in Hampshire. A problem with this system is that the provider tends to use one architect for many of its rural schemes, immediately risking losing some of the local vernacular.

All parties recognise the need for affordable housing and the importance of prioritising that when granting planning permission, but Hampshire land is expensive. Commercial builders cannot afford to cross-subsidise affordable housing if they cannot build for sale. In non-exception sites, 40% of all homes should be for rent or shared ownership, whereby part of the house is bought outright and the rest rented. People can then 'staircase' up (or in difficult circumstances, down), but cannot usually buy a house outright.

My advice to fellow-CPRE members is to encourage all rural communities to build a few new homes for rent or shared ownership on an 'exception site', and insist that it remains as such in perpetuity. They should ensure that the design is appropriate to the local village style and site. If private housing has to be built, insist on the 40% affordable ratio and good design. CPRE also advocates sustainability, so wherever it is involved with a housing application should also request high levels of energy and water efficiency.

One major problem affecting good design is the risk of appeals being overturned by government. A community can end up with a housing development which the local authority rejects, which is taken to appeal by the developer and recommended for refusal by the governmentappointed planning inspector. The Minister can then decide not to accept the inspector's recommendation, even stretching the rules to justify such a decision. In such cases, your suggestions on design improvement get lost.

We experienced a sad case in northeast Hampshire whereby a decision on a very unpopular greenfield application was delayed until the law was changed. PPG (Planning Policy Guidance) 3 largely prevented development on greenfield sites. The replacement PPS (Planning Policy Strategy) 3 suddenly demanded a fully site-identified 5-year supply of land. Not only was the housing enforced, but we were stuck with poor design. The message has to be to try to work with your council and developer unless the housing really is inappropriate. Government always has the last word.

So please do your best to protect both your rural areas and its families for the future.

This article first appeared in Hampshire Views No.2, Spring/Summer 2010 (PDF).