Affordable homes for rural communities in Staffordshire
A special event in Gnosall has highlighted the work being done to provide affordable homes for local people.
Stafford and Rural Homes (SARH), in partnership with Stafford Borough Council, staged the drop-in event at its showcase Lowfield Lane development as part of the National Housing Federation’s Rural Housing Week.
The development, which consists of 30 new homes built on a rural exception site – land that would not normally gain planning permission but can be used for affordable housing if there is a proven local need and the proposals meet strict planning requirements.
Karen Armitage, SARH Chief Executive, explained: “Being able to provide affordable rural housing is an essential element of a vibrant rural community.
“We wanted to showcase the excellent standard of housing that can be achieved when different organisations, including borough and parish councils and housing associations all work together.”
As well as offering visitors the opportunity to see inside one of the homes and to speak to staff at both SBC and SARH the event also offered information explaining the rural exception process and new planning rules under the Council’s recently adopted Plan for Stafford Borough.
Councillor Patrick Farrington, Cabinet Member for Community at the borough council, said: “This is a key development which has provided quality affordable homes and will help local people remain in an area which otherwise may have been impossible.
“I visited the field before the development began and it was great to come back to the site recently and have the opportunity to see inside one of the new houses. The design of these new properties helps enhance the area and it is good to hear how pleased this young local family are at having the chance to own such a nice property in the village.”
Kate and Dan – Stafford and Rural Homes case study
For Kate Hodson and Dan Wright, the prospect of starting a family in the village where they grew up seemed like an impossible dream.
The pair, who have been together for five years, met in the local pub in Gnosall, a parish with around 2,500 homes. After a number of years renting they decided to start the search for a home of their own when they learned they were expecting their first baby.
However, the couple soon began to encounter some of the significant challenges facing thousands of families living in rural communities across England.
“We looked at house prices and the mortgages available to us and quickly realised that we would have to move out of Gnosall,” said 28-year-old Kate.
“We wanted a three bedroom property where we could start a family, but there was no way we could afford that in Gnosall. That meant moving away from our families. The closest property we could consider was around 30 minutes away. There were just not enough homes at the prices we could afford.”
House prices in rural communities have rocketed over the last decade, with Action with Communities in Rural England reporting an 82 per cent increase in 10 years, while the National Housing Federation has shown the number of people aged 30-44 living in rural areas has dropped by 9% over the same period.
The average price of a three bedroom home in Gnosall is £249,719, this compares with £196,000 for the same property in other parts of the UK outside of London and the South East.
Rising house prices mean that Kate and Dan would need to save around £25,000 for a deposit, and needed a combined income of around £75,000 to secure a mortgage.
With Kate working as a pre-employment trainer and Dan, 24, a quality inspector for an engineering firm, they could easily afford mortgage payments, but it was a lack of affordable properties that was forcing them out of the community where they had been brought up.
That all changed when they heard about the Lowfield Lane housing development from Stafford and Rural Homes – which was aiming to deliver much needed homes for affordable rent and shared ownership at prices within reach of local residents.
SARH appointed a independent expert to carry out a rural housing needs survey which identified the exact number and style of properties that were needed to ensure that the village can continue to thrive.
The survey showed the need for 13 new shared ownership properties and 17 homes for affordable rent which have now been built at Lowfield Lane, along with six bungalows which have been delivered at a separate site in Gnosall. Each home has been carefully designed to ensure it is completely in keeping with the surrounding village.
Dan and Kate were amongst the first families to move into a shared ownership property at Lowfield Lane, and arrived in their dream three bedroom home just in time to welcome their new baby Ava.
House prices at the development range from £132,000 to £190,000, with tenants taking an equity stake of between 40% and 80%.
“It’s difficult to explain how much this means to us,” said Kate about her new three-bedroom home which includes a garden for Ava to play in as she grows up. “It might sound silly to some people, but this home means everything to us.
“Without the opportunity for shared ownership there was no way we could have stayed in Gnosall.
“The home has given us a new direction in life. We are living on a street where we know lots of people, our parents are close by, and we have a nice environment to bring up Ava. We are so happy that these homes were built. I don’t want to think of where we would be without this home.”
Having seen first-hand the challenges facing young families looking to lay down roots in rural England, Kate believes it is essential that more homes are built to keep communities alive.
She added: “Developments like this can change lives. You can tell a lot of thought has gone into it.
“We were in danger of having to move away from our friends and family, but we’re just one couple. The situation will be exactly the same for others like us. Eventually we would all have to leave. It’s really important that we can stay, play our part in the future of the village and keep the sense of community.”