The Forgotten Crisis: Addressing the Urgent Need for Affordable Rural Housing

In a recent essay for the Localis report “Building consent: housing by popular demand,” Kerry Booth, Chief Executive of the Rural Services Network (RSN), sheds light on a pressing issue often overlooked by policymakers: the dire lack of affordable housing in rural communities across England. As the Prime Minister announces plans to build a million homes over the current Parliament, Booth argues that the government’s approach fails to address the unique challenges faced by rural areas.

The rural housing crisis is a multifaceted problem that extends beyond the mere shortage of homes. Houses in rural areas are significantly less affordable than in urban areas, with the average lower quartile house price being 8.8 times the average lower quartile earnings, compared to 7.6 times in urban areas. This disparity is further compounded by the growing trend of short-term holiday lets, which reduces the availability of long-term affordable rentals.

The consequences of this housing deficit are far-reaching.

  • It stifles rural economic growth
  • It threatens the viability of local shops and facilities
  • It makes it difficult for businesses to retain essential workers
  • Moreover, the prevalence of older, inefficient properties exacerbates health risks for rural residents

To address this crisis, Booth emphasises the need for politicians to understand the specific needs of their rural communities and implement targeted policies. The RSN has put forward three key short-term asks:

  • Deliver a rural housing strategy with an ambitious annual target for genuinely affordable, quality rural homes
  • Protect rural tenants by enabling local authorities to manage the rental market effectively
  • Ensure that the national homelessness strategy includes investing in solutions for rural areas

Additionally, Booth highlights the potential of Rural Exception Sites, which give priority to residents with local connections, to increase the delivery of affordable housing in rural areas. However, the success of this policy relies on the long-term commitment to fund Rural Housing Enablers beyond the current spending review.

The essay also draws attention to the historical underfunding of rural public services, with urban councils receiving 36% more in Government Funded Spending Power per head compared to rural councils in 2024-2025. This disparity leaves rural councils at a disadvantage in delivering essential services, such as public transport, which can hinder access to healthcare, employment, and training opportunities.

To create thriving, sustainable rural communities, the government must not only build the right homes in the right places but also invest in the necessary infrastructure to support local businesses and residents. Effective planning policies that are rigorously rural-proofed are essential to tailor solutions to the unique needs of rural areas.

The challenges facing rural communities are interconnected and cannot be tackled in isolation. As Booth concludes, the government must recognise that rural communities need affordable homes, good jobs, digital connectivity, accessible healthcare services, and fairly funded public services. Only when a political party embraces the needs of the 10 million residents living in rural England and commits to designing policies that suit their needs will rural communities truly thrive.


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