Devolution deals and rural areas – time to extend the invitation

A number of emerging devolution deals cover rural areas. We must grasp these opportunities to ensure the best deal for our rural areas.

Monica Burns, External Affairs Manager, National Housing Federation

Monica Burns, External Affairs Manager, National Housing Federation

5 July 2018

Devolution to date has been focused largely on city regions. This is due partly to pre-existing partnership structures in urban areas which facilitate the devolution of powers, and political structures which are more conducive to an elected mayor. However, it is essential that our rural areas do not miss out on the opportunities and potential benefits of devolution.

Any devolution deal must be seen to be delivering. For housing, this means in terms of numbers, value and speed. The number of new homes needed in a village may be as low as 10 and due to the lack of economies of scale the unit cost will be higher. The development process is lengthy in rural areas as local communities are fully involved in the process, from housing need assessment through to allocation. In addition, the planning restrictions can be more onerous.

But those 10 homes can make a huge impact on not only providing places to live for local people, but in keeping vital services running and the local economy growing. In our Rural life monitor 2017 report there are some fantastic examples of housing associations building homes, and as a result keeping schools, pubs and post offices alive. Those 10 houses can help to keep a community sustainable.

A number of emerging devolution deals do cover rural areas. Peterborough and Cambridge, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and North of the Tyne all have a rural hinterland included within the devolution area. We must grasp these opportunities to ensure the best deal for our rural areas.

So how do we ensure that any rural areas included in existing or emerging devolution deals benefit? These devolution deals should be rural-proofed. The needs and issues of our smaller, more isolated communities should be taken into account, and the measures used for success should be wider than a numerical and best value total.

Each devolution deal which includes rural communities should contain a specific section on how housing, services and employment in smaller rural settlements are going to be tackled.

Housing associations working in rural areas are already hugely successful in delivering fantastic community-led, energy-efficient housing developments which result in a thriving local economy. Given extra resources via a devolution deal they will do much more. And for the bureaucrats sticking to assessing delivery in numerical terms – small numbers do add up! From the Isles of Scilly to Northumberland, there is plenty of scope.


At the National Housing Federation, we promise to help housing associations influence devolution to create the best possible environment for social housing and your customers. The devolution hub is at the heart of how we will deliver on this.

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