Right to buy and rural communities

The Right to Buy debate in 2015: at the September meeting of the Upper Dales Area Partnership and at the AGM of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA).

members agreed with North Yorkshire County councillor John Blackie that the Authority should lobby the Government to exclude rural communities with less than 2,000 residents from the proposal to extend the Right to Buy scheme to include housing association tenants. The proposed changes to the housing policy would also mean that local authorities would have to sell off their most valuable council houses when they become vacant. The Authority chairman, Peter Charlesworth, intends to discuss these important issues with other national park authorities and National Parks England with a view  to jointly lobbying the Government.

“We have fought tooth and nail over the past years to build some affordable houses. But now we face having the rug pulled from underneath our feet for what we have created already,” Craven District councillor Carl Lis told the meeting.

He and the majority of the members supported Cllr Blackie’s call for the YDNPA to lobby the Government for communities with under 2,000 residents to be exempt from any extension to the Right to Buy scheme.

“It has to change,” continued Cllr Lis, and called for the government to take into account the different needs of rural communities.

Mr Charlesworth allowed Cllr Blackie’s proposal to be discussed because, he said, housing was such a fundamental part of the new Local Plan. For the full statement that Cllr Blackie sent to members before the meeting see below.

During the debate he reminded them of the struggles they had had to get affordable housing built in Askrigg and Hawes, and that these were in desirable places to live.  He added: “If anybody thinks that when these houses are sold off they will be replaced by a similar stock of houses for renting for perpetuity –  I’m sorry that is just wishful thinking.

“I believe the Government needs to be told of the concerns of the National Parks and of (other) rural communities and councils that this policy will actually put a question mark over the future viability of small communities … to retain our resident population, our young people and our  young families.

“I hate to see the best intentions (of the new Local Plan) undermined by a Government policy of one size fits all.”

North Yorks County councillor John Blackie felt that the proposal to lobby the government should be made even stronger and South Lakeland District councillor Brenda Gray argued:

“I believe no council houses or social housing that has been built with public money should be sold as long as there is a waiting list. In South Lakeland we have a waiting list that is equivalent to the number of houses that have been sold off over the years and it isn’t reducing.”

Jocelyn Armstrong-Manners supported the concept of lobbying but felt that the figure of 2,000 residents was arbitrary and that some sort of proportionately should be built into any exemption formula.

Cllr Blackie’s statement on the Right to Buy in rural areas

Under threat – The future of all the rural communities in Richmondshire and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The Government’s new policies on social and affordable housing are threatening the very future of deeply rural and rural communities in Richmondshire including all those in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The continued viability of these communities and whether they remain vibrant and forward-looking is in peril of being removed altogether by the momentous impact of three Government-led initiatives.

1) The raising of the thresholds of affordable housing that developers of housing used to provide when building new open market houses. There is now no need to make provision, either by building affordable houses for rent or shared ownership, or contributing a commuted sum into a fund to facilitate this on sites of five houses or less.

The issue is that in deeply rural areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and rural areas in the more remote parts of Richmondshire, there are very, very few sites available that can accommodate five new houses, as most are plots for just one, two or three houses. In the past these would have yielded an affordable house or two, or a contribution into the commuted sum fund, but there is now no longer a requirement to make this provision or contribution.

And should a larger site become available developers are likely to be imaginative in avoiding the affordable housing provision by only developing part of the site, or splitting the site between owners so each will individually be below the trigger level.

2) The proposal that local Councils that are still housing authorities will have to sell off their most valuable Council houses when they become vacant.

Inevitably the small number of Council houses that remain in the Yorkshire Dales National Park or the attractive villages in rural Richmondshire beyond the Park will have the highest book value of all the houses amongst the stock owned by Richmondshire District Council.

These houses have been available for rent since they were built in the 1950’s to 1970’s and have continued to be so for the last 30+ years of having the Right to Buy them available to their occupants. In many cases they are the last remaining Council house or two in a small rural community, and as such they are the equivalent of the family silver of the Richmondshire District Council housing stock list, and they will have to be sold off once they become vacant.

The idea that they will be replaced by new houses for social rent in the same small community is so much moonshine. The official statistics tell their own story of one-way-traffic.

3) The proposal to allow Housing Association tenants the Right to Buy their houses at huge discounts will spell doom and disaster for deeply rural and rural communities in Richmondshire, as inevitably the take up will be very significant indeed.

This rush for purchase by their current occupants, or as likely their close relatives providing the necessary finance, is fully understandable and I lay no blame at their door whatsoever. After all why would they look a Government Gift Horse in the mouth, especially considering the attractiveness of the communities in which their houses are situated and the price they will be able to buy them at.

However at a stroke it will take away the capacity for these deeply rural and rural communities to accommodate the churn in tenants facilitated by having a stock of houses for rent in perpetuity in their midst, that necessarily needs to be available to maintain a viable, vibrant, sustainable community in the future.

The churn accommodates local young couples starting out, local young families moving along through their life, key workers in your local public services or economy coming or going, those experiencing a break-up in their relationship, even those downsizing to allow others to access their larger family accommodation.

For example, since they were first built in 1994, a development of 11 housing association properties in Hawes has seen some 33 new tenants, including the 11 tenants that first moved into the new houses 21 years ago.

The suggestion from the Government that there will be a one-for-one replacement is simply wishful thinking. In the Greater Manchester area, 830 Council houses have been sold in the last 3 years under a rejuvenated Right to Buy initiative with much higher discounts, of which only 10 have so far been replaced with new affordable houses for rent financed by these sales.

Given this telling statistic what chance I ask has Hawes to replace its existing 21 housing association properties with new properties when they are sold off ?? None whatsoever, I suggest.

The last batch of 10 housing association properties built in 2007 in Hawes opposite the Wensleydale Creamery took 8 years to get built and this at a time when Government funding for Housing Associations developments in rural areas was reasonably freely available. It took a visit I arranged with the then Chief Executive of the Countryside Agency to break the logjam and access the national housing funding pot.

This Government funding has now dried up completely. The fact is that once the Housing Association properties are sold off there will be no more coming to take their place in the deeply rural and rural areas in Richmondshire.

Last November the Rural Summit I organised as the Leader of Richmondshire District Council examined the exodus of young people and young families from the Upper Dales and concluded a key factor was the lack of affordable housing in its small communities. In Swaledale for example the number of children attending its two primary schools has dropped from 95 youngsters to 45 in the last 15 years, a reduction of more than 50%.

This situation will be made much worse if the nine housing association properties in Reeth and the small handful of Council houses remaining there are sold off without replacement.

Unless you have young people and young families in your midst, there is no bright future ahead for your local community in these deeply rural communities. The schools, shops and services gradually all close down as the footfall of the young at their door disappears, and soon before your very eyes, the infrastructure within these communities comes close to collapse.

I believe there is a desperate need to avoid this collapse by the new Government legislation yet to be tabled on the Right to Buy of Housing Association properties and the sell off of the highest value Council houses making an exemption of these new initiatives applying in communities of 2000 population or less. This would preserve the stock of houses to rent in perpetuity in all the deeply rural communities in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and most of the rural communities in Richmondshire, and give them a future to look forward to.

At the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority meeting tomorrow (Tuesday 30th June) a new Local Plan is to be approved which in part is aimed at increasing the supply of local housing, including affordable housing for local people, in the communities in the Dales.

As the impact of the new Government initiatives in housing will prove directly opposed to this worthy intention, I intend to ask the Authority to support a proposal for it to join with all the other National Parks in England, where the issues are exactly the same as in the Yorkshire Dales, and lobby the Government to allow an exemption to its new Right to Buy of Housing Association properties and sell off of high value Council houses, for communities of 2000 or less in population.

At the Richmondshire District Council meeting in July I will be tabling a similar motion, but as it is a political Authority I will be calling upon the newly elected MP for Richmond (Yorks), Rishi Sunak MP, to take our concerns to the highest level in the Government.

There will be many urban communities and cities in England that will welcome the new Government initiatives in housing as giving their local residents the chance to step onto the housing ladder as a member of the property owning democracy. However if they are to be adopted wholesale across the country as a one-size-fits-all initiative they will spell doom and disaster for our deeply rural and rural communities in Richmondshire as the stock of affordable houses for rent are sold off with no hope of seeing them replaced quickly or at all to provide these communities with the viable and vibrant future they so richly deserve.

He provided statistics from the 2011 census which showed that for all of England the percentage of social rented (Council houses) was 8 per cent and for social rented (predominantly Housing Association properties) it was 10 per cent. This compared with the following statistics from the 2011 census for the Yorkshire Dales National Park: Social rented (local council houses) – 2.8 per cent; social rented (Housing Association properties) – 3.9 per cent; and shared ownership (Housing Association properties) – 0.6 per cent.

He commented: “These figures hardly suggest that the exemption I am proposing would lead to a revolution amongst local residents, or does it suggest a need to boost the provision of market housing in the Yorkshire Dales.”


The government’s intention to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants was a key issue at the meeting. Among the documents given to those attending was a letter from Cllr Peacock, in which she explained to Carperby cum Thoresby parish council why she and the rest of the Conservative group voted as they did at a RDC  full council meeting on a motion put forward by Cllr John Blackie requesting that communities of 2,000 and under should be exempt from this extension.

She said: “My Group and I took a different view on how the potential changes should be dealt with and did not support the more direct approach advocated in the Motion submitted by Cllr Blackie. “I intend, with the support of our local MP, Rishi Sunak, to meet with the Government’s Housing Minister .. to explain on behalf of Richmondshire and other rural communities in North Yorkshire, the types of housing issues that are worrying individuals living in our isolated rural areas.

“My aim is to encourage the Minister to make some concessions in any legislation brought forward that would assist our rural communities, but without moving away from the general principle of Right to Buy which I support.”

At the meeting she stated: “I am not like Cllr Blackie. I work behind the scenes, I work quietly and I try to get things done. And that is the way I intend to go forward.

“I am passionate about housing in my area. You need to remember that the aspirations of people are to buy their homes. If someone buys their home and lives in it they are more likely to stay.”

She said that one of the problems with Cllr Blackie’s motion was that it stated 2,000 and under whereas there were other district councils in North Yorkshire that believed the threshold should be 3,000.  North Yorkshire County and RDC councillor Stuart Parsons commented: “I am sure if you had come back regarding Cllr Blackie’s motion and asked to increase it to 3,000 he would have been quite happy to take that on.”

He explained that he and Cllr Blackie were very concerned about the knock on effect if young people and young families could not find affordable homes within their own rural communities and had to look for houses in urban areas. In Richmondshire the main area where house building was taking place he said was at Colburn. He warned that Colburn’s infrastructure couldn’t take any more.

“I am afraid that going to talk to the minister is not nearly enough especially when our own MP doesn’t appear to understand that one-to-one replacement is not happening,” Cllr Parsons added. He was referring to another letter which was circulated at the meeting:-

Letter from Rishi Sunak MP

Rishi Sunak MP had written that Cllr Peacock’s meeting with the Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis MP was a more effective way of ensuring the Government was aware of how aspects of the policy may affect Richmondshire.

He added:“Receipts from selling current property will help build replacement affordable homes on a one-for-one basis in the same area. This means the number of homes across all tenures will effectively double for each home sold, increasing national housing supply and creating a new affordable home for those in need from each sale.”

Pip Land said that the Association of Rural Communities supported the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority in its request that communities of 2,000 and under should be exempted.

She pointed out that in Aysgarth there had once been eight council houses. All had been sold under the earlier Right to Buy scheme with none being built to replace them.

She also read a note from Ian Cuthbert of Kettlewell who stated that if the first sale to the sitting tenant was affordable the second and subsequent sales could be at full market price. There was no requirement for any subsequent sale to be to a “local” as there was no system in place to monitor it.

RDC Cllr Richard Beal gave an illustration of how unjust the extension of the Right to Buy scheme would be for those who had bought “affordable” homes on a Housing Association site compared to those who were tenants. The difference in cost for such neighbours could be as much as £130,000 if tenants had the Right to Buy.

Cllr Peacock responded that at present the Government had provided no written details of its proposals. She asked that people should give her as much ammunition as possible for her meeting with the Housing Minister.

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