Tom Titherington

What’s the future for rural affordable housing?

By Tom Titherington, Executive Director - Development and Commercial
5 July 2019

When we talk about the housing crisis, people often think more of the city streets than the impact on our countryside communities.

Though Sovereign is one of the largest housing associations in the country and we work in some of the largest conurbations, a large and important number of our homes and our communities are in rural towns and villages.

These areas have their challenges too. In housing terms, affordability and lack of supply are problems just as acute as in urban areas. Young people can be quickly priced out, with homes in rural areas sometimes costing far more than their urban neighbours and there is homelessness here too. As people continue to move out of London, seeking new places to put down roots, prices and rents will only increase further.

Land prices are steep, sites that do come forward can be tricky to develop, and the market isn’t building the range and volume of affordable homes that people need. As a major developer, scaling up our own efforts towards building 1,900 new homes a year, with the vast majority affordable to rent or buy, we also see our role as making developments happen that otherwise wouldn’t.

This means taking a lead on sites, buying land, working with partners – whether that’s councils, Homes England, government agencies, but also smaller local developers/constructors who are often a part of these communities and can access land that we may not be able to. We can work with them to unlock production and achieve quality buildings – all as part of our long-term view on place-making.

So while land can be pricey and planning sometimes complicated, small schemes can be a way of delivering affordable homes in villages and towns. Helping rural communities thrive and giving local people the opportunity to settle in the places where they are connected is place-making and a key part of what we do.

We see this as not just being about building for today. What do the generations of tomorrow want, or need, in thirty years’ time? What’s the best design to help new homes integrate seamlessly into the community? How can what we build, and how we build it, make a difference to climate change?

Smaller as well as large partnerships will help us answer these questions. And we’re already taking steps, such as our work with Greencore, a specialist contractor, to build new, quality and affordable carbon zero homes at two sites in rural Oxfordshire, one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

These new homes in Longcot and Springfield are incredibly environmentally friendly, look great and have been designed with residents in mind. They’re cheaper to heat, have excellent soundproofing and are sympathetic to their surrounding environment. Created off-site, they’re faster to build too.

Development is not just about the home, we need to make sure the right infrastructure is in place – whether that’s roads or buses, or shops and schools. We’ve recently committed to treble our investment in our communities, whether that’s helping to bring people together at new developments or offering employment services for those that want them. This is part of ensuring genuine mixed communities and effective social cohesion at a local level.

This is an exciting time at Sovereign, as we build more, build better, build different– making places today that people will want to live for decades to come.