Homelessness in rural areas in England has more than doubled in the last two years, as campaigners warn of planning reforms that are likely to worsen the situation.
The number of households categorised as homeless in rural local authorities in England rose to 19,975 – an increase of 115% from 2017-18 – according to analysis published by countryside charity CPRE and the Rural Services Network.
The rise in numbers of households owed homelessness relief by councils has been greatest in the north-east and north-west of England, according to government figures, but an increase has been seen in all areas.
The increase in homelessness in rural areas is greater than in towns and cities, and rural councils fear the housing shortage in the countryside could soon worsen.
Local authorities have predicted a potential reduction in affordable house construction by up to 50% if the requirement to build them switches to applying to sites with more than 40 or 50 homes – rather than just 10 homes.
The change could come under the government’s proposed alterations to the planning system.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said key workers were being priced out of rural areas by high rent in the private sector.
“Tragically, rural homelessness continues to soar – continuing to deregulate the planning system will only make this situation worse,” he said.
“Instead, investing in rural social housing now would deliver a boost to the economy at a time when this is so desperately needed.
“The evidence is crystal clear that this is the best way to provide affordable homes for rural communities, especially the key workers whom communities rely on now more than ever, while at the same time jump-starting the economy.”
The CPRE has calculated that, at current social housing build rates, it could take more than 150 years to clear rural housing waiting lists.
The Rural Services Network has said that changes set out in the government’s planning white paper would be catastrophic for the delivery of rural affordable housing, arguing that more rural affordable housing would boost the economy.
It has forecast that for every 10 new affordable homes built, the economy would receive a £1.4m boost, supporting 26 jobs and generating £250,000 in government revenue.
Graham Biggs, chief executive of the network, said: “The social case for affordable rural housing provision is undeniable and is at the heart of sustainable rural communities.
“Now the economic case for government investment in such housing is also firmly established, we call on the government to boost affordable rural housing supply in a clear win-win situation.”
The ministry of housing and local government said it changed the law in 2018 in a way that made more people entitled to homelessness support from the government, and it was therefore misleading to compare the figures.
However, the CPRE analysis showed that while there was a larger increase in homelessness in the year to April 2019, there was a further 16% increase in rural homelessness in the year to April 2020.
A government spokesperson said: “Our proposals for the planning system will bring in a new, simpler levy that ensures developers deliver at least as much affordable housing as today.
“And our new £11.5bn affordable homes programme – the biggest investment in a decade – will deliver up to 180,000 new affordable homes across the country, including in rural areas.”
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