The RICS rural policy paper sets out a number of recommendations as to how central and local government could better manage rural land and support countryside communities, including offering measures to encourage large landowners to release space on their estates for affordable houses. This might include partial inheritance tax exemptions, allowing heirs to avoid paying taxes on any affordable properties within the estate.
Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at RICS, said: “At the turn of the last century, owners of Britain’s largest estates took a more patriarchal approach to the provision of affordable housing. This wasn’t entirely philanthropic as there was a common sense business motive – it resulted in a settled and readily available workforce.
“But affordable rural housing is fast becoming a thing of the past. There is a reported 76% shortfall in rural affordable housing. If our rural towns and villages are to thrive, we need to take action to ensure that workers are available to drive local economies. Without becoming rose tinted, there are elements to the philanthropic approach to estate management that could benefit future generations of workers and apprentices.
“There are some countryside communities where the average cost of a house can outstrip average annual wages 11 times over. Rural poverty is a serious issue that threatens to hamper regional growth.
“We would like to see local authorities work sympathetically with estate owners to encourage the release of land for eight or more affordable houses, based on long leaseholds, which would allow estates to retain long term interests.”
A similar scheme has been pioneered this year in East Devon, where Lord Clinton- the largest private landowner in the county – worked with Cornerstone Housing Association to develop 19 affordable homes in the town of Budleigh Salterton, made up of both rental and shared ownership properties.
Head of property and land for Clinton Devon Estates, Leigh Rix, said: “To provide affordable housing for local people is an important step towards building sustainable communities. From the outset we worked with the Exeter based housing association Cornerstone to provide the right mix of affordable homes – for rent and shared ownership – to enable young families to stay in Budleigh Salterton and allow this seaside town to thrive for generations to come.”
To further boost rural economies, RICS is calling on government to extend the current devolution agenda to market towns. Mr Blackburn said: “Before its closure, the Commission for Rural Communities reported that the English countryside had the economic potential of the eight core cities minus London, and that its businesses had survived the recession better than their urban counterparts. They also cited the importance of market towns as economic engines behind this picture.
“Market towns are the focus of much economic and service activity in rural areas, but can be overlooked in terms of their role and potential. There are about 1,600 small and market towns in England, where 22% of the population live. We urge government to extend the current devolution agenda beyond our big cities to market towns. A new generation of enterprise zones that can be made appropriate for land based businesses is a welcome first step; an urban only devolution agenda is short sighted and ignores the big contribution from the rural economy.”