§ Mr. Baldry
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make an announcement about housing in rural areas.
§ Mr. Ridley
The Government are committed to the growth of owner-occupation and to creating the right conditions for private investment in rented housing. Our policies are set out in the White Paper Cm. 214. I have been538W considering what further steps we can take to improve the supply of housing in rural areas both for sale and to rent at prices within the reach of people on all levels of income. I am issuing today two documents.
The first is an announcement of proposals for increasing the supply of low-cost housing in smaller villages; primarily through expanding the coverage and role of housing associations and the encouragement of private investment. This will involve building on the success of the rural housing association movement that has been established in part through the work of the National Agricultural Centre Rural Trust (NACRT). Its work is already funded by the Rural Development Commission and in the past by the Housing Corporation. I have agreed with the Rural Development Commission a threefold increase in NACRT's funding to enable it to expand its support service to the rural housing association movement and to establish further rural housing associations where they are needed. The Housing Corporation has already announced in its development programme for 1988–89 a revision of the criteria governing the selection of schemes in rural areas, and a doubling of its programme in smaller villages. I have now agreed with the Housing Corporation an extension to its commitment under which it will earmark sufficient funds within its development programme to permit a steady increase in the number of rural schemes approved within the new criteria up to 1990–91. The target figure for that year will be 600 approvals compared with the 185 approvals (on a slightly broader definition) given in 1987–88.
I shall also be looking for more direct private investment to meet the need for lower-cost housing in rural areas. The deregulation of rents combined with the tax benefits and subsidies now available should provide a major stimulus to the private rented sector, and will help landowners to provide housing for their local communities while still making a reasonable return. I hope that developers will pay increasing attention to the needs of village communities by designing developments sympathetically and by building balanced developments that help meet local needs for low-cost housing for rent and sale.
The second paper, on village housing and new villages, is being published as a basis for discussion on housing in rural areas and the land-use planning implications. In the light of comments received, the need for new policy guidance on the subject will be considered. The paper discusses housing in relation to the changing rural economy and considers housing development in villages and small towns and the possibility of new villages in areas well away from the conurbations and well outside the green belts. It emphasises that the Government are fully committed to preserving the green belts, areas of outstanding natural beauty and other statutorily protected areas.
Copies of both papers are available in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office.