Bishop of Ripon and Leeds speaks about affordable housing in rural communities

R_LOn 22nd January, 2014, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds took part in a short debate, led by Baroness Ford, on increasing the supply of affordable housing, focusing his remarks on delivering housing in rural areas.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I, too, am deeply grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for enabling us to tackle again the issue of the serious lack of affordable housing. I want particularly to concentrate on rural housing. The statistics abound—from a need for 11,000 new rural houses a year to the provision of just over 1,000 such houses by registered providers in 2011-12. The one thing on which there seems to be agreement is that there need to be far more than are currently being built.

I welcome the way in which the noble Baroness has stressed actual supply rather than wishful thinking. We need rural housing delivery strategies even more than housing needs strategies. We may be talking about small absolute numbers in terms of rural housing but they are key to the life of our rural communities in this country.

Faith in Affordable Housing is a churches’ project designed to help to release church land and property for affordable housing. It has worked particularly with the diocese of Gloucester to provide, for example, flats for young homeless people on a derelict vicarage site. It has had modest success but is having difficulty in finding partners for more challenging developments. Some of the earlier, very positive uses of church buildings and properties appear to be impossible for registered providers to contemplate today, and this seems an immense waste.

Churches are not the only organisations with underutilised land and property which could be released for affordable housing. However, in the case of churches, such developments can also provide new meeting places, worship areas and places which can be developed for community use and needs. Faith in Affordable Housing is seeking to raise the vision of churches to make such provision, but time and again it appears to be too complex for local authorities and registered providers to become partners and supporters in this enterprise.

Can the Government tell us how they will support rural communities, including churches, in imaginative plans to increase the supply of rural affordable housing through greater encouragement and through a more equitable financial provision?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: …I say in response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds that around half the affordable homes provided in 2011-12 were in rural communities. He is right to identify that need and we are responding to it…

…The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke last week about ensuring that councils are able to take advantage of some of those housing guarantees so that they are part of the route to increasing supply—the right reverend Prelate also referred to this today. The noble Lord felt that local authorities were barred from being able to take advantage of some of these joint ventures and the source of funding. That is not true. Some councils are already doing just that, and are working with partners, housing associations and developers in joint ventures on housing for sale, private rentals and sub-market rentals. In the new scheme announced at the Autumn Statement to which I have just referred, we expect to see partnership working with housing associations through those joint ventures.