Call for more affordable rural housing

Housing should be made more affordable in rural areas, including Angus, claims a local MSP.

Angus North and Mearns MSP Nigel Don is calling for the construction industry and also planning authorities to look for new ways to build more affordable homes in rural communities. This could include the easing of planning restrictions on sites near small villages and towns in the countryside.

Speaking after an informal brainstorm session with experts in planning, construction, architecture and affordable housing, Mr Don said: “Buying a house in Aberdeenshire is becoming ever more difficult for young families, and the rented accommodation on offer is extremely expensive. In Angus there is a shortage of affordable homes to rent.

“Welfare benefit changes are causing hardship for single people under 35 who can no longer afford to rent privately, and we have the new ‘bedroom tax’ on the way which will turn a spare bedroom into a very expensive luxury.

“One answer is to build more affordable houses in rural areas, and I asked a small group of very knowledgeable people to spend a morning discussing the best way forward. I asked them to tell me what they think are the barriers to progress, and what we can do to move forward.”

Taking part in the meeting were architect Grigor Mitchell, planner John Smith of Casa Planning & Environment, Neil McArthur, managing director of Oyster Eco Build Ltd and Di Alexander, affordable housing officer at the Cairngorm National Park Authority.

Mr Don continued: “There was general agreement that we need to free up small pockets of land in the countryside for new housebuilding. Ideally these would be on the edge of villages where new families could support local shops and schools and contribute to community life.

“In my view that could involve council planners rezoning land for the purposes of building affordable rented housing. Landowners might then have an incentive to provide plots at relatively low prices rather than see it lie fallow and unproductive for an extended period. This is something I would like to discuss with the two planning authorities which cover my constituency.

“The next challenge is building small numbers of houses in rural areas where materials, transport costs and labour are expensive. Neil McArthur from Oyster Eco Build demonstrated how modern methods of construction could cut down the time and expense involved in producing new, energy efficient homes for rent or sale at low cost. Given the winter weather we sometimes have to endure and the low incomes of many who live in the countryside, well insulated homes which are cheap to heat are absolutely essential.

“This is the first of a series of meetings I hope to hold with a view to bringing people together and producing construction jobs, more homes and stable communities.”