Industry Intel

The Grass is Always Greener – Examining the Rural Housing Gap

The current Government has pledged to provide 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

While it’s true that the supply has been increasing, with 244,000 completions seen in 2019-2020, housebuilding stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sudden influx of people moving to rural areas certainly didn’t help.

Worryingly, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) has found that housing completions since 2010 have averaged at around 130,000 per year – below the Government target. According to the National Housing Federation data, approximately eight million people in England have some sort of housing need.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Statistical Digest of Rural England found that:

  • Dwelling completions by Local Authorities and Housing Associations in rural areas have increased – in 2019/2020, there were 2.1 completions per 100,000 households versus 1.1 in urban areas.
  • In 2018-2019 in rural areas there were 64,700 net new dwellings as opposed to 147,990 in urban areas.

Defra’s report states that there are fewer homeless people and people in temporary accommodation per capita in rural areas than urban areas. However, research from the CPRE, Rural Services Network, and English Rural have found the contrary, claiming that homelessness in rural areas has doubled during a two-year period. Households deemed homeless in rural Local Authorities in October 2020 have risen to 19,975 – up 115% from 2017-2018.

Are the Right People Getting the Right Homes at an Acceptable Standard, and Can They Afford Them?

While there is a housing shortage across the country, it is plain to see that simply building more houses in arbitrary places is not the right answer. Rural areas face unique challenges when it comes to this matter.

  • Housing is less affordable in rural areas, increasing the disparity between average earnings and house prices.
  • More social housing is available in urban areas – around 19% live in some sort of social housing compared to just 8% of rural households.
  • The Right to Buy policy has led to the amount of social housing available being reduced. To put things in perspective, between 2012 and 2015 1% of the available stock was bought each year. For every eight properties sold, only one was built.
  • Holiday lets and second homes inflate the cost of rural housing. This is especially true in popular tourist destinations, with around 15% of available stock in Scilly dedicated to it.

The Parliamentary Inquiry into Rural Health and Care in 2020 found that in just 5,558 affordable homes were built in villages with a population under 3,000, and around 80% of them were in the private sector. In 70% of rural communities, it is simply not possible to get local affordable housing in developments of less than ten dwellings. Rural Housing Enablers’ 2020 study of housing needs found that in 10 counties and 26 villages:

  • 383 households were seeking affordable housing
  • 71% of households wanted a home to rent
  • 60% of households earned less than £30,000 per year and 50% less than £20,000.
  • 35% were aged 16-30, and 21% were sixty years or older
  • 42% were looking for a house, and 56% were seeking a bungalow or some other form of accessible adapted accommodation.

“Staycations,” or rural holidays, are increasing in popularity in the UK, especially now that COVID-19 has reduced people’s ability to travel abroad. Stays in Airbnb’s longer than twenty-eight nights increased by 10% in 2019, and 50% of these bookings were from UK residents.

A survey from ARLA Propertymark and Capital Economics suggests that 470,000 long-term rental properties have been diverted from long-term lets to short-term (around 19% of the UK total housing stock). This could lead to a drop in the supply of rental properties, which will cause an increase in price.

Are We Building the Right Properties?

According to Defra, in 2011, most houses in rural areas were detached. In 2018, most new-build residential transactions were detached properties, and this proportion looks set to increase. However, the smallest proportion of new-build properties in rural areas is made up of flats, as opposed to 56% of urban housing stock. As flats are usually more affordable than detached homes, this compounds the inaccessibility of affordable housing.

Rural homes are also less likely to be updated and have worse broadband, which detract from the area’s liveability.

How Can We Deliver More Rural Homes?

Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have tried to build new homes to reduce prices. However, new home targets are not being hit, and prices are continuing to rise. The system is clearly not working. So, how can we fix it?

The Rural Services Network (RSN) has called on the Government to create a fully-funded, comprehensive rural strategy to address:

  • Development sites with prices suitable for affordable housing
  • Making sure said homes remain affordable
  • Planning new housing in a manner that attracts the support of the community
  • Making sure that the funding model for affordable housing stacks up

The RSN propose that to make rural housing affordable the following initiatives should be actioned:

  • Looking at the local context when planning new homes, and allocating affordable housing where it is most needed
  • Making sure that affordable housing is affordable to those most in need
  • A dedicated rural affordable housing programme
  • Boosting landowner and community support to release land for rural exception sites, under the proviso that they are only ever used for affordable housing
  • Replacing sold social housing and making sure that the Right to Buy proceeds go back to the local authority

The RSN has also collaborated with the National Housing Federation (NHF) to outline a five-start plan for housing associations and the rural housing sector. This plan aims to deliver more local housing that meets the local need. Under the pan, housing associations and rural stakeholders promise to:

  1. Work with and for rural communities, in accordance with the Rural Housing Alliance pledge.
  2. Increase the current level of housing supply in rural communities by 6% per year for each of the next five-years.
  3. Bid for at least 10% of Home England investment to deliver new homes in rural areas.
  4. Ensure that homes are delivered benefit the local economy, including the farming and food economy.
  5. Meet the needs of rural communities and contribute towards five key tenures, as appropriate – homes for affordable rent, market rent, affordable home ownership, self-build and market sale.


Although the Government has pledged to build more rural homes, there is still a vast disparity between urban and rural areas in terms of accessible housing. Simply building new homes is not enough.

The Government needs to closely examine local needs to make sure that they are truly met. For example, in an area with many single people needing affordable housing, it is futile to use resources to build “affordable” four-bedroom detached houses, which will be far out of the reach of those that need them.

So far, despite building new homes, housing prices have continued to rise, and the number of homeless people in rural areas is increasing. Organisations such as the RNS and the NHF state that the current system needs a drastic overhaul if it is to help stop this severe problem.

Source: Rural Services Network

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