As one of the architects of the 5-star plan for rural housing, seeing the positive reception it has received made the hard work of promoting it worthwhile.
Martin Collett, Chair, Rural Housing Alliance
15 May 2019
By contrast, it was with some nervousness that I agreed to document in this blog what the actual impact had been. Failure would undoubtably impact the morale of housing associations who have invested time and energy in supporting the ambition.
There was no need to worry – the figures show that the housing associations have bought into the plan and are delivering on it.
As a percentage of affordable homes that rural housing associations started to build, the contribution of organisations signed up to the 5-star plan rose from around 18% in 2016/17, just prior to the launch of the plan, to just over 23% in 2017/18, an increase of almost 6%.
In 2017/18, this group also invested more than £8m into rural communities.
The momentum looks set to continue and all being well, the next rural figures published by Homes England should show investment levels and affordable rural housing completions at their highest levels for many years.
It is right for housing associations involved to be proud of this progress, but of course, we still need to encourage others and ourselves to do more. Even with the increase, the deliver of affordable rural homes is well below the number needed to support a thriving countryside.
Affordable housing is a central pillar within rural communities, the most important element that unlocks community potential and solves wider social challenges. When housing associations build in a village, it is often the first and last development that the community will see for a generation.
Whether it's housing families that keep the village school open, offering a safe environment for older people close to support and care networks, or keeping a labour force in place to sustain the local farming and landscape needs, a few affordable homes really can make all the difference.
One of the biggest challenges facing rural communities is weak rural proofing when it comes to policies that affect them. Despite the efforts of rural organisations, the countryside often lacks voice, power, and influence.
Rural advocates make a great deal of this at national level, where rural proofing by most government departments is ineffective. This has seen the Rural Services Network campaigning for a national rural strategy, a sentiment now endorsed by the Lords Rural Economy Select Committee recommendations.
If the housing association sector is going to be truly ambitious about tackling affordable rural housing inequalities, we will also need to question ourselves. Too often our own business strategies and policies can discriminate against the rural areas we serve.
A challenge to all of us covering rural areas should be to make sure we rural proof our own approach. Signing up and endorsing the ambition of the 5-star plan for rural housing is a great place to start.
If you have not already supported the ambition, then join your peers in making a real difference in rural communities and sign up now.