Addressing Shropshire’s Rural Housing Crisis

Shropshire’s rural housing crisis

Shropshire, in common with the rest of the country, has faced a rural housing crisis for many years. As rural homes have become scarce and demand (particularly post-pandemic) has soared, the price of an average rural home in the county has been pushed far beyond reach for many locals.

According to research from the Centre for Rural Economy at Newcastle University, house prices in rural England are now 25% higher than in urban areas. This creates a spectrum of challenges from overcrowding and homelessness to longer commutes and growing inequality.

A hollow effect

Experts fear the English countryside will eventually become ‘hollowed out’ as this trend continues, with most rural homes being accessible only to affluent residents, commuters, and people looking to retire or to purchase second and holiday homes.

Being a predominantly rural county, those who were born and raised in Shropshire’s villages and hamlets – or those who work in them – have felt the effects of this trend most keenly.

The growing disparity between the average house price and the average salary in the UK has been widely documented, but in many parts of the county – from the rural parts of Ludlow and Bridgnorth to Whitchurch and Much Wenlock – this disparity is amplified.

With so few affordable housing options available to them, younger locals and workers often face a difficult choice between moving to a more affordable area, or being crippled by the cost of a long daily commute. This issue is particularly challenging for many of the key workers and essential workers we’ve relied on throughout the pandemic, as well as the care workers supporting older people in rural areas.

The wider impact

The broader effect on these rural areas are felt not only by locals and workers, but by the wider community. As people are priced out of their parishes, local services like schools, shops, pubs, and transport networks become increasingly redundant and face closure. Some fear this creates a risk of rural areas becoming holiday parks for the affluent.

A key challenge is the lack of new, affordable homes being built in rural areas. The reasons for this are numerous; it’s much more difficult to find rural sites to build on, there’s often a lack of existing infrastructure like cables and connections, and both councils and developers frequently encounter opposition to losing countryside.

Balancing objectives

While preserving Shropshire’s countryside is critical, there’s a balance needed between these two objectives. This is not just for the survival of these communities. It is also to ensure they continue to benefit from the services they rely on.

This is something Shropshire Council has been working hard to address. The Council’s housing teams, through their Right Home, Right Place initiative, work closely with the parish councils throughout the county to survey residents and workers and build a clearer picture of the type of housing that’s needed most in rural areas.

These surveys are instrumental in uncovering hidden challenges and housing needs that may not emerge through more traditional housing support methods like the HomePoint register.

They give households the chance to share their views on whether the housing in their area truly supports their needs; whether they’re an older resident who needs to downsize into something more affordable and physically accessible, a first-time buyer trying to get a foot on the ladder, or a young family looking for more space.

Meeting needs

As a result of these surveys, in the past 12 months, Shropshire council has delivered 276 affordable homes in rural areas. 134 of which have been in villages with a population of less than 3000 people and 152 of which have been provided on an affordable or social rented tenure.

Since 2013, 2362 affordable homes have been built in the county. 579 of these have been in parishes with less than 3,000 residents.

Beyond delivering these much-needed homes, which are exclusively for those with a local connection to the area, Shropshire Council recognises that there’s a wider need for those in rural areas to live more affordably and sustainably. Exploring and introducing cheaper ways for people to live has therefore been another key factor in rural housing delivery.

For the past decade, Shropshire Council has been working to ensure sustainable, energy-efficient standards in the design of new buildings. This drive has taken on greater significance in recent years, with more than 23,000 households across Shropshire reported to be in fuel poverty.

A county first

One example of how this challenge has been addressed is the community-led housing scheme at Callaughtons Ash in Much Wenlock, which was completed in July 2018.

The scheme is Shropshire’s first affordable housing scheme to be built to Passivhaus standards and was developed specifically to address the growing challenge of fuel poverty and other running costs in affordable homes.

Developed in Germany, Passivhaus principles are designed to present a high level of occupant comfort while using very little energy for heating and cooling due to using passive heat sources.

The Callaughtons Ash scheme equips homes with triple glazing, insulations that effectively seal the house, energy efficient boilers, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) systems, and thermally modified external cladding. This makes the predicted annual spend on heating and hot water just £90 a year for a three-bedroom house.

Affordable rent

Another example is the Little Stocks Close community-led scheme in the village of Kinlet, near the market town of Bridgnorth.

These homes, established to provide affordable rented housing for people with local connections to the areas, feature a highly insulated closed-panel timber frame. The development is also served by its own bio-disc sewage treatment plan.

With no mains gas available in the village, the homes are heated by ground source heat pumps using shared ground arrays. These fall under the non-domestic tariff, making the homes significantly cheaper to run.

These are just two examples of how we have begun to tackle the rural housing crisis facing Shropshire, whilst preserving our environment. Through continued housing needs surveys via Right Home, Right Place, and close partnerships with local parishes, Shropshire’s rural areas are slowly becoming much more viable for their residents.