Farmers’ leaders urge action as ‘scarce and costly’ rural housing puts off younger generation
- Credit: citizenside.com
Sector leaders have called for action to address a lack of affordable housing to serve the farming sector in Suffolk and Essex following a report.
A study of retirement housing for farmers in the UK says a lack of affordable housing can prevent farmers from retiring - causing problems at both ends of the age spectrum. This was hitting the younger generation during a period of huge upheaval for the sector, which is bracing itself against the loss of European Union subsidies after Brexit, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers' (CAAV) report warned.
"Measures to enable the retirement of the older generation and the opening of doors for the younger generation are severely restricted," said study author Jeremy Moody.
"Sufficient housing is needed by everyone in the sector, but it's frequently scarce and expensive in rural areas," he added. "Housing is one key obstacle to farmers when scaling down or retiring - whether through lack of availability or limitations in affording it."
National Farmers' Union (NFU) East Anglia environment adviser Rob Wise said his organisation had helped achieve some movement in planning policy. But while councils now had more flexibility to allow new development related to succession planning for farm businesses, they needed to be persuaded to act on this.
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"The NFU welcomes this report highlighting a key issue for the farming sector in Suffolk and Essex - the ability to provide adequate on-farm housing for the current and future generations," he said. But he added: "There are also further needs to provide housing, on or near the farm, for long term seasonal workers that are not currently addressed in planning policy."
Easton and Otley College principal Jane Townsend, said her organisation would welcome the opportunity of working with external partners to look at the issue of affordable housing in farming as outlined in the report.
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"We work tirelessly with our staff and stakeholders to try and remove barriers into agriculture for those of both farming and non-farming backgrounds," she said.
"It is worth noting that affordable housing is an issue that is not just specific to agriculture or East Anglia, it is an issue that has an impact on many other industries across the UK."
Nicola Currie, who is apprenticeship ambassador for the college, said lack of affordable housing close to their place of work could act as a deterrent to very capable candidates, who then had to look to other sectors to find work. "So often we have the apprentice who wants the job and is ideal for the job, but they are on one side of Suffolk and the job is the other side of Suffolk."
Both livestock and arable farmers ideally needed to be near their place of work - to take care of the animals and because of the difficult hours which they worked during harvest time, she said.
NFU Suffolk branch chairman Glenn Buckingham said there should be no housing barriers to getting new entrants into farming.
But he added: "There is a need to help retiring farmers and their staff to stay in the community that they have enjoyed and worked in if they wish to do so. It's often where they have been for a complete working career. As they retire, the traditional properties are not always appropriate, with accessibility and energy efficient issues making retirement both physically and financially constrained."
But with forethought these issues could be planned for, he said, although planning authorities needed to help out.
Farming was not suited to commuting, he said, but believed barn conversions of low cost housing could be part of the answer.
"The threat of reduced farming income because of Brexit is a very real issue," he added.
Farmers faced threats to their income from the move away from the Basic Payment Scheme, as well as further exposure to global pricing and the potential of competing with imported food from countries with lower standards and inputs not allowed here, he said.
Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Tim Breitmeyer, who farms on the Essex/Cambridgeshire border, said the report was timely, as Brexit may provide a catalyst for many farmers to retire and pass on their rural businesses to the next generation.
"Our own research has proposed changes to planning policy in England to encourage the building of new homes in the countryside when farmers retire and transfer their farm to the next generation," he said. "Our plans recognise the unique circumstances that many in agriculture are working under, and would alleviate concerns many have over succession."