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08 July 2021

How Innovative Housing Schemes Can Sustain Rural Communities

How Innovative Housing Schemes Can Sustain Rural Communities
As part of Rural Housing Week, Cartref hears from Keith Henson, who works for Barcud, about his role as a rural housing enabler and the importance of listening to local communities

Who are you?

My name is Keith Henson. I'm a rural housing enabler (RHE), part of a network of enablers across Wales, part-funded by Welsh Government, Registered Social Landlords and local authorities. My role is hosted by Barcud, a housing association with properties in Ceredigion, Powys, Carmarthenshire, and Pembrokeshire and I work from Lampeter in the heart of mid-Wales. Previous experience includes being a bank manager and a head of commercial services with a local further education college. I am actively involved with several local societies and organisations within my own community and the area I cover. I see this as an integral part of the fabric of rural Wales.

What does a 'Rural Housing Enabler' do?

RHEs work with rural communities to identify the local need for affordable homes and then work with the local community to find a suitable opportunity to develop and work extensively with local councillors to identify areas of potential for new developments. My work ensures the voice and opinions of local people are given due consideration when it comes to housing needs and the opportunity to stay in their local area.

What kind of issues do you think are facing housing in rural areas in 2021?

We see the various housing issues that have come to the forefront during the last 12 months, which of course, included the COVID pandemic. The surge in house prices has dominated these issues. There has been a substantial increase in people moving into rural areas from the larger urban conurbations, predominantly from England. Many coastal areas are seeing an increase in second homes or Airbnb properties has had a significant impact on the problem.

What other issues have arisen from these challenges?

The current housing crisis due to the pandemic has changed the type of people living in these areas. It has had a significant impact on Welsh-speaking communities, as more and more people have moved into these areas who are not bilingual. People moving in may also need more public services support, which is not always available in rural areas. Suppose there are many second homes in smaller villages. In that case, this leads to other issues such as reducing people known to serve on community groups and services that rely on volunteers as they view the community in a more detached way.

Why do you think these issues have arisen?

The low wage foundational economy has also impacted the availability for local people to obtain mortgages. The availability of land, which is, of course, a finite resource, means there is less and less chance to build all types of housing, from social rent to open market houses.

What can be done to help with these issues?

Innovative housing schemes can be developed to help with these issues. This can be done through various ways - via housing associations, through land trusts and co-operative ventures or by self-build or private developers and using different planning methods such as Rural Exception Sites and One Planet developments. More local authority support and new Welsh Government projects to support tenants and those wishing to purchase houses could also provide solutions.

What can be done locally?

Development in rural areas is strictly controlled by planning policy, which can differ in each local authority area. There can be exceptions to the planning rules, as it is recognised there is a need to keep local people in their communities. Perhaps a more significant amount of flexibility for each local authority? Each area of Wales has its own set of challenges due to the geographical and linguistical landscape. We need to be proactive regarding the issues and creative in generating solutions and be ready to initiate the conversation.