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Housing Trust aims to keep Shropshire's rural communities alive

A national housing body claims that leafy village life will soon become the reserve of the rich, striking a death-knoll for rural communities, unless more is done to support affordable housing.

Bower Farm in OswestryThe National Housing Federation’s ‘Rural Housing Week’ campaign, launched Tuesday, 3rd July, aims to shine a spotlight on the decline of village life due to the average family being priced out of areas like Shropshire.

Price hikes saw the average Shropshire home reach around £235,000 in 2016/17, meaning households with less than a £53,500 annual income have no chance of property ownership. With elevated private rents also out of reach for many, averaging £573 per month, the future is bleak for those on a lower wage.

The knock-on effect is dying villages, with local amenities, such as schools, GP surgeries, post offices, banks and pubs, all closing as the families considered the life-blood of rural communities are forced to leave.

NHF research, published today, shows that more than 6,000 post offices, 287 pubs and six schools have closed across the Midlands in the last five years.

Monica Burns, External Affairs Manager for rural housing at the National Housing Federation, says:

“Today’s findings show that far too few homes are being built for local people and villages are dying as a result. Young people are moving to cities and often house prices are rocketing. Right across rural England, schools are shutting their doors to pupils. Post offices, which provide vital community services, are closing at a similar rate and countless pubs are serving their last ever orders to locals.

“This is why we are campaigning on behalf of housing associations, to help them build the affordable homes local people desperately need.”

Telford-based Wrekin Housing Trust is one of the largest social housing providers in the West Midlands, with more than 12,300 homes for rent and low-cost home ownership across Shropshire and Staffordshire.

Its managing director, Wayne Gethings, believes there is capacity to construct more affordable houses in rural Shropshire, but it is being stumped by challenges in finding land that is both suitable and affordable.

“We are determined to find a way of providing more rural homes for individuals and families who would otherwise be priced out of the market, but there are more barriers to overcome in sought-after rural village locations,” said Wayne.

“The high price of land, the costs associated with preparing the land so it is safe to build on and contributions we might be asked for towards infrastructure, to help improve highways or drainage, for example, make it unviable for us to consider.

“Whereas private developers are in a position to meet the additional costs, knowing they will recoup their outlay on house sale profits, housing associations can struggle.”

“We are trying to think more creatively about how and where houses are built, but the local authorities need to do more to help. This could be through the offer of remediation packages to help us prepare land for development or help with the infrastructure funding.”

Ahead of Rural Housing Week, many housing associations across England have been signing up to a five-star plan for rural housing, developed by the National Housing Federation with housing associations. The plan challenges the sector to increase delivery of rural housing and continue contributing positively to a thriving countryside.

3rd July 2018