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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
Action urged to boost rural homes
Rural homes (Picture courtesy of freefoto.com)
Second homes are a problem in some areas
A big increase in subsidised housing to stop low-earners being priced out of rural areas in England is being called for by a government-backed group.

A report by the Affordable Rural Housing Commission says at least 11,000 new homes a year must be built.

It suggests a new tax on second homes and more restrictions on the right to buy council houses in rural areas.

Without such action, rural communities will be reduced to retirement towns and "dormitories" for the wealthy, it adds.

The commission has also emphasised the obligation on national park authorities to play their part in building affordable homes, as well as the involvement of planners and rural communities themselves.

Villages and country towns must be allowed to evolve in the way they did in the past
Elinor Goodman

Commission chair Elinor Goodman said: "We recommend that 11,000 affordable homes need to be built. That's equivalent to around six new houses a year in each rural ward in England.

"Villages and country towns must be allowed to evolve in the way they did in the past - they can't just be preserved in aspic.

"Most can probably absorb some more houses, as long as they are in scale and character and maintain the identity of individual communities."

She said the issue of second homes was not a major problem across the country, but was a real concern in some areas where there was a disproportionately high number.

Professor Martin Shucksmith, also of the commission, told BBC News that commuters buying up property is the main difficulty.

'Restricted supply'

But other groups, such as people retiring to the countryside, are causing concerns.

"The problem is a mixture of these new groups coming in with the money that they have and on the other side, the very restricted supply which arises by choice really because the planning system restricts the amount of houses that are built in rural England."

Private development is also needed, to provide the first step on the housing ladder and to generate cross-subsidies to pay for the affordable housing, said the commission.

It was set up last year in response to widespread concern over the lack of affordable homes in rural areas.

Caroline Spelman, shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, said: "There is clearly a problem with a lack of affordable housing in rural areas, and across the country, but higher taxes and more regulation are not the answer.

"This is another sign that Labour are turning council tax into a crude wealth tax and punishing those who have saved and worked hard."




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