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Rural communities in Suffolk could become housing developers to solve affordable homes crisis

PUBLISHED: 12:06 12 March 2015 | UPDATED: 12:06 12 March 2015

Rural communities could become housing developers

Rural communities could become housing developers

Archant

Groups of neighbours and parish councils in rural communities are becoming housing developers in a bid to solve Suffolk's affordable homes crisis.

The schemes – which involve sites not usually eligible for development, such as farmland, being made available on the proviso only affordable housing is built – are receiving 
growing interest in the region.

One community-led scheme in Lavenham has already reached the stage where the land purchase is being negotiated.

And Suffolk Coastal’s vice-chairman of planning, Tony Fryatt, is hoping to gain more widespread interest at Monday’s meeting of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils.

He says his motivation is to address the “serious problems” of affordable housing, which his own authority, despite its best intentions, is “failing miserably” to address, particularly in rural areas.

Whereas developers building 10 or more houses are required to make at least a third of them affordable, smaller schemes, of the sorts usually proposed for villages, have no such requirement.

While Mr Fryatt admits many village communities in Suffolk are opposed to new housing, he says they are often more supportive of small-scale affordable developments, which help “rebalance communities” and “keep families together”.

Under the scheme parish councils seeking affordable housing identify the numbers to be built and possible locations.

Farmers and small-scale landowners then sell these “rural exception sites” for development, which under normal circumstances would be ineligible for housing and are therefore relatively cheap.

It is similar to the “enabling development” proposals put forward by the Alde and Ore Estuary Partnership to help fund sea defences, which also allows sites not usually permitted for housing to be considered for such purposes as a means to raise cash.

The sites could be bought by parish councils, social housing providers, or groups known as community land trusts (CLT).

Mr Fryatt says these trusts are the most “exciting” of these options as it would see groups of ordinary villagers working together.

“It’s a great example of local communities looking after themselves,” he added.

Debbie Wildridge manages schemes for the east branch of the National Community Land Trusts Network (NCLTN), and has been working with the group in Lavenham to deliver its business plan.

She says most trusts taking part are motivated by the disintegration of their community, which they want to address through the provision of affordable housing to help young people live in the villages where they grew up.

“For villages that feel they have lost the heart of their community it’s a way to put the heart back in,” she said.

Although there are many stages to the process, Ms Wildridge says there is also lots of assistance available, including funding support from the NCLTN.

Nationally, there are 170 CLTs around the county, which have so far delivered 500 homes, with a further 3,000 expected by 2020.

NCLTN director Catherine Harrington said: “Often people form CLTs because they are worried about the fact that a whole generation will not be able to find housing locally, in the place where they have called home, because they are being squeezed out due to affordability issues.

“They want to have new housing but they also want to have more influence and control about what new development happens in their community.”

Ms Harrington said that with government support the CLTs could become a key part of solving the housing crisis.

Mr Fryatt said he would look to hold a seminar for interested communities, if Monday’s SALC meeting proves receptive.

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