Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

Living and working in the countryside

14/02/22Living and working in the countryside

The affordability of available housing in the countryside has long been under discussion – especially if you work in the countryside and need to live near your place of work. It’s a challenge that rural developers, planners and builders are addressing, but they need to find a solution with a sympathetic, sensible approach.

The Government’s 2021 National Planning Policy Framework is a document that affects and influences many aspects of planning and new-build in the UK. It covers where planning is permitted and attempts to ensure that there’s affordable housing for all and that the necessary properties are available. However, it’s no secret there is a national shortage of housing stock and many properties that already exist are unaffordable to many lower-paid workers. This is especially true in rural areas, where over the years many once-affordable villages have become beyond the means of many people – especially in so-called commuter belts, or areas that have become desirable and affluent.

Close to home

When it comes to housing for farmworkers, they are very much affected by the huge rise of property prices in the countryside – an area that they work in, but often cannot afford to live in. The inflated prices are beyond the reach of many workers in traditional rural occupations, such as farming, who do not wish to have long commutes to get to work – which, with the focus on green issues, are themselves damaging to the environment. This has led the Government to address the challenges facing rural housing for farmworkers.

It’s important that new homes or developments being built in the countryside are not seen as being isolated from other houses and amenities. New-build homes sited in isolation in the countryside should be avoided, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The requirement for rural workers to live permanently at or near their place of work should be classed as an essential need. This should ensure that a certain priority is given to farmworkers and other rural staff in discerning the availability of housing stock and new-builds – and their subsequent affordability.

A sympathetic, sensible approach

Any development in the countryside should represent the optimum viable use of a heritage asset, or should be appropriate in enabling the development to secure the future of a heritage asset. The development should also reuse redundant or disused buildings where possible, to enhance its immediate setting. The development is allowed if it involves the subdivision of an existing residential building. It is also permitted if the design is of exceptional quality, in that it reflects the highest standards in architecture. It should help raise standards of design more generally in rural areas, or significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.

So many one-off developments over the years have been allowed in villages that are not entirely in keeping with the local architecture but have somehow passed through the planning process. The introduction and enforcement of Conservation Areas has meant that many villages’ heritage and architectural integrity has been retained. A barn conversion can be carried out very sympathetically, for example, as it utilises the outer shell of the building as the external façade, while extensions too can be carried out in a style that reflects the local area, using local products and materials.

Ongoing planning policies should be seen to be supporting a prosperous rural economy, enabling sustainable growth and the expansion of all types of business in rural areas – both through conversion of existing building and well-designed new buildings. It should enable the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses based there and allow people running and staffing these businesses to both work and live in the locality.


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