Princess Anne’s Homes in the Countryside

Princess Anne has raised the profile of the debate over where and how to site homes in Rural areas.  Speaking with her own views, but also as the Patron of the English Rural Housing Association, the Princess Royal has advocated proportionate expansion of rural villages and towns.

She commented:

“Is it really necessary to only think in terms of large-scale developments where you might add 10 or 15 thousand in a block where you require infrastructure to be installed?  I’m not sure it is.”

“Our battle is to argue the toss with real house builders that this has real value – and some local authorities, frankly, who would much rather invest in a large scale development.

“Maybe it isn’t such good value if you have to build in the facilities that need to go with it.

“You will need a new school, you will need new shops, you will need to create a community centre, but for many of the small scale developments you already have those.

“They may be underused, and they may be your church hall, but with a degree of investment could provide a centre for so many other activities.”

The Princess informed delegates at the Rural Housing National Conference that new build in existing villages was cheaper than creating entirely new towns and that expanding towns and villages would actually help them survive by encouraging young families to stay, rather than having to migrate to cities or large towns to find affordable housing.

Mr Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, however, has adopted the opposite position; describing himself as a “strong advocate of garden cities” as a way of solving the housing shortage.

“Garden cities are a way of protecting the countryside. It is possible to create them without building on any green belt, National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And by doing it we could deliver homes people can afford, in places they want to live”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said:

“This Government’s policy is to support locally-led development. We have put councils’ local plans at the heart of deciding where houses should and shouldn’t go and given communities more say on what’s best for them through community-led neighbourhood plans.”

The Princess Royal’s comments will no doubt add to the political debate as to how to address the shortage in the number of homes needed, without destroying our green and pleasant land.

Bunbury’s Comment

Some villages have expanded at a scale enabling the preservation of schools, public houses, shops and other services to be maintained.  Insufficient expansion to provide affordable housing and to provide homes (especially for families), often sees these services lost as families cannot afford to live in rural villages.

Some expansion in the majority of villages is therefore of considerable benefit and can be profitable without straining infrastructure. Too much expansion, however, changes the nature of the village and requires comprehensive new infrastructure to be created. It is a balance that the planners need to control, and with the coalition’s shift towards Localism in recent years they are in a better position to do so than they have arguably ever been.

New larger settlements may be appropriate where the required level of development to satisfy demand is of such a scale that the character of all the villages would be fundamentally changed by small additions to all – in a few areas in the booming South East for example.

As ever, it should be a question of degree and balance, but so often becomes a question of money.  It is easier for the volume builders to build homes in one development rather than a number.  Although there may be new infrastructure costs as Princess Anne indicates, these are usually reflected in the cost of the land acquisition and a larger development is usually on a “greenfield site” with fewer costs of site preparation.  Additional economies of scale of all the trades working on one development with one management team and one site office and foreman further enhance profits. The increased infrastructure costs are usually outweighed for the major developers by greater profitability of the larger developments.

Ultimately, there will always be substantial pressures on Government to create entire new towns from these big developers and land owners who stand to gain the most. Until the expansion of local villages can compete on profitability for big business with new towns, even Princess Anne’s words will likely have only limited impact.

02/03/14                                                                                                          SRJ / LCB

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