Triggered by inputs from the Community, the Parish Council has been actively exploring the best way to quantify the need for and the mechanisms by which a small cluster of affordable low cost houses could be built within Ashburnham.
Planning policy has moved on a lot in recent times and a Rural Exception policy (REP) now exists which allows for affordable housing to be built within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), such as ours. In order for affordable houses to be approved under the REP it is critical that the community is able to tangibly demonstrate that there is a genuine need for low-cost ‘affordable’ housing.
The ’need’ must be specifically for people that either live in the area or who have direct connections to the area either through family or work. It is important to be able to demonstrate that once built the new housing units will be only allocated to local people who have registered as being in need of low cost housing. This is usually best achieved by means of a Community Land Trust.
Furthermore, since this would involve building new houses, in order to obtain planning permission it would require us to prove the proposed location to be sustainable. This includes easy access to schools, shops and other facilities locally without the need for privately owned transport. The houses must therefore be close to such facilities or have good public transport links. Finally, the houses must of course be eco-friendly with a low carbon footprint.
With this in mind, there are clearly several hurdles for us to overcome before any affordable housing could become a reality however the challenges are not at this stage considered insurmountable, provided we can get over the first hurdle of being able to demonstrate that there is a real and genuine need in the community.
Meetings were held back in February with representatives of the Rother District Council Rural Housing Enabling (RHE) team to share ideas, learn from the experiences of others that have actually developed an affordable housing scheme and to seek support in how best to further scope out our project. A lot of good information was received from the RHE team and we had envisaged that the next step would be a joint presentation by the Parish Council and the RHE team at the Annual Village Meeting. We hope to still make such a presentation in the event that the meeting is held later in the year.
In the meantime, we will continue dialogue with the RHE team, seek support from the landowners regarding availability of candidate plots of land and make plans for a formal Affordable Housing needs survey.