A Rural Exception Site is a piece of land that can gain planning consent in an area not normally possible. This is, though, by delivery of near 100% affordable housing on the proposed development scheme. Everwoods are often asked to provide planning and development consulting for Rural Exception sites. We have also advised on the subsequent development build options and funding.
Rural Exception Sites are located outside town or village borders in areas. They will normally have a capacity of less than 15 houses in total. These are often in areas outside a local authority plan, and not covered by allocated housing plans of the local planning department. Ie one example is that it can be, ‘land with the appearance of agricultural fields.’
These can be thought of as places that a housing planning consent would not normally be granted.
Before approaching a local council for a discussion on the planning potential of the site, initially it is wise to enact initial due diligence. The housing need case should be initially drafted out, and then distilled into a case that can be presented to a local council. A housing need survey can be carried out by a Neighborhood Plan Group, or in an initial draft form by a community land trust or group of interested parties. If there is a housing need in the area, there may be a case for the Exception Site.
Housing sites for conventional development are normally allocated in the local authority’s development plan. Small sites that fall within the Rural Exception policy are not part of this allocation.
Rural Exception Site can:
- Revitalise a local parish
- Support shops and services
- Meet the need for housing in a local community.
To incentivize the council or local parish to grant planning permission, a house being built on the must be sold at under market value. This is determined during the planning process. The council can demand that the houses are ‘forever’ set to being affordable. In practical terms this is for at least 79 years, as per section 106. What that means is when someone buying the house sells it on, they must sell it cheaper than its normal market value.
An issue with situation is that mortgages can be limited on houses with a fixed affordable tenure. This is why early advise on structuring the planing application can be critical.
Small numbers of houses built at market price can be allowed on rural exception sites. These can make the difference between a site being commercially viable and not.
In terms of site delivery, one of the impediments to this type of site is that the housing must be for people with a local connection to the area.
Our own view is there is an argument this produces a self recursive local housing situation that discourages migration and new business and investment into areas. Ie reinforces the existing, not develops new communities.
Research commissioned by the RTPI and produced by Cardiff University found that Rural Exception Sites are limited in their delivery of local affordability needs. This is because of requirements to “ensure affordability in perpetuity which restricts mortgage availability and limits potential providers”.
A Rural Exception Site as defined by The National Planning Policy Framework are, ‘small sites used in perpetuity for affordable housing, where planning would not normally be granted.’.
Within its definitions, there is provided some negotiation as to viability, and the use of site viability appraisals. Ergo, a variable proportion of market price housing can be included. In practical terms this will almost always be under 3-5 houses.
Its important to bear in mind, the small number of houses involved can push up build and development costs. Rural Exception Site development can be harder than a traditional simple development.
For a community land trust, or local community development group, pluses can include a being able to chose a location, free of planning and land constraints; ie house with all the benefits of a rural or beautiful location.
These must we weighted against the down-sides on the stated effect of resale and mortgage on the units. A house that’s affordable to sell, still has a build cost that’s similar to a house that is market price.
Its also worth bearing in mind, in some local authorities, they authority may try to determine who gets to live in one of the affordable houses. One view in this is, while the local council is busy determining who has a local connection and who not, the nation creeps into housing crisis and rural exception sites remain underutilised.
We feel instead of treating planning as some sort of dodge or game that people try to find ‘ways round’, it should simple by enabling and supporting and not blocking and controlling housing delivery. This argument can be made to some local authorities, but not to all. One approach is to push for more shared ownership tenure, or below market price ‘starter homes’.
The latter can only be sold to those ‘with a local connection . A local council will use a points based system to determine between applicants with a local connection and need.
What is counted as a local connection?
• Currently an inhabitant in the parish and has been for at least 12 months.
• Lived there historically for a minimum of 36 months.
• Currently employed in the Parish for 12 months.
• Parents, grandparents, brother, sister or children are currently resident.
It is critical to understand the law for shared ownership in this situation.
Problems With Rural Exception Sites
When a person who owns a shared ownership house wishes to sell, they must sell to either the developing housing association, or another person who has a local connection. For a community land trust or local development group, there may be no housing association to buy the houses. This means there can be problems above and beyond the normal house development cycle. This can cause people to become locked into the house they have purchased, and incoming buyers to have problems with mortgageability.
Its also important to ascertain if ‘there is local housing need’ for affordable houses in the immediate area. We think this is short-sighted as the built tapestry of an area will itself affect and inform local need, and thus local need becomes self fulfilling, while wider big picture issues are burred under a tick-box approach for immediate local issues.
Thus getting housing needs investigated at the local parish level, even before talking to the council can save time and heartache for a community land trust or local landowner.
Also, the Rural Exception Site needs to have a good relation to existing transport networks, and cycle usage. Convenience store access can be a good fast guide in this case. Can someone cycle to a convenience store or take a bus?
The RTPI recently commissioned research from the university of Cardiff, suggesting that more market housing should be allowed on exemption sites in rural locations. There is a view that ‘the money has to come from somewhere’. And that with declining grant from Homes England or HCA, then the difference needs to be made up from somewhere, else delivery of exception sites will falter.
Cornwall council is a good example of an authority that is seeking to ease delivery of rural sites via bringing a greater number of market sale dwellings into the planing mix. The policy is very strict that no more than 50% of houses can be market price.
One should be aware there is evidence of a council seeking to recover costs from planning applications on Rural Exception Sites that have been made with a view to mostly market sale dwelling delivery.
- 5-15 dwellings on average
- outside conventional planning boundaries. Ie ‘open countryside’.
- Housing needs study recommended early.
- Close to a bus, or cycle range to convenience store.
- Potential for 1-5 market housing dwellings to pay for development
We can advise community land trusts and housing associations on delivery of Rural Exception Sites and perform Viability appraisals. We also offer affordable housing consultancy and can help you sell development land. Please feel free to contact us for an initial consultation.