Howard's Way 26 January 2006

Contributed by editor on Jan 26, 2006 - 12:18 AM

HOWARD'S WAY.... a weekly column from Michael Howard MP

<IMG height=195 hspace=10 src="images/michaelhoward3.jpg" width=130 align=right vspace=10 border=0>26 January 2006

Last week Princess Anne visited Newchurch to address a seminar on affordable rural housing. The Princess is President of the Rural Housing Trust, under whose auspices thousands of affordable homes have been provided in rural areas over the last 15 years.

This is a subject in which I have long taken a close interest. One of the key policy changes which has helped make this development possible is the Exceptional Sites planning policy which I introduced when I was Minister for Housing and Planning in 1989.

It is one of the rare rewards of public life to see a policy which you introduced really make a difference on the ground. Many affordable rural housing developments, such as the houses recently built at Newchurch, would not have been built without this policy change. And if our villages are to remain vibrant local communities it is essential that young local families should obtain access to housing which they otherwise could not afford.

Unfortunately this welcome trend is now under threat. The occupiers of these houses are allowed, and indeed encouraged, to buy part of the equity of the house. But in order to ensure that the properties remain available for use in this way a limit of 80% was agreed to the portion of equity that could be bought in this way. Now the Government intends to abolish this limit.

The Chief Executive of the Rural Housing Trust, Moira Constable, is concerned that this would seriously undermine the scheme. This is because the land on which these houses are built is given for this purpose in the knowledge that planning permission for housing development would not normally be granted for this land. If, ultimately, these houses are to be lost altogether to affordable housing, landowners would be much more reluctant to make the land available in the first place.

So I have written to the current Minister for Housing and Planning urging her to think again. I hope she listens and changes her mind.

Of course the need for affordable housing is not limited to rural areas. As my postbag and advice centres make clear there is a desperate shortage of affordable housing in urban areas, too.

That is why it is so disappointing that the amount of affordable housing built under the present government has fallen sharply.

But that is another story.