FAQ paper updated

We’ve updated our FAQ paper. This provides answers to all the questions we are regularly asked when meeting with parish councils and local communities. The paper is sent out with every questionnaire in our Housing Needs Surveys.

You can access the full paper here.

Changes requested to National Planning Policy Guidance to mitigate the negative impacts of Covid-19 on the delivery of rural affordable housing

ACRE, the Rural Services Network and the Rural Housing Alliance have written to the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government asking for changes to National Planning Policy Guidance. They are concerned that the impact of Covid-19 on the development industry will have damaging consequences for the delivery of rural affordable housing. As things stand, many local authorities are likely to miss their Housing Delivery Test and 5 Year Housing Land Supply targets. This will trigger the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

History tells us that these circumstances make the delivery of rural exception sites challenging. Landowners withdraw sites in the hope they will get permission for market schemes or seek unrealistic land values. Meanwhile, other sites on the edge of villages come forward with inappropriate and excessive schemes oblivious to local needs.

A number of recommendations are made which would support the plan-led system by providing more security to the status of adopted local and neighbourhood plans.

Government thresholds continue to limit supply of rural affordable housing

Updated research has confirmed that government thresholds continue to limit the supply of rural affordable housing. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) restricts the ability of local authorities to seek affordable housing contributions on schemes of less than 10 dwellings. Research by the Rural Services Network suggests that we could be losing as many as 1,000 rural affordable homes per annum.


A change to the NPPF last year has allowed local authorities to set their own thresholds for seeking an affordable housing contribution. However, this only applies to Designated Rural Areas as defined under section 157(1) of the 1985 Housing Act. Unfortunately this has had no effect whatsoever in Cambridgeshire where no parish is defined as rural under the Act. Lobbying continues to get all rural areas exempted from the threshold.

The research has highlighted the importance of delivering affordable housing directly through small schemes. Initially, the rules allowed a commuted sum to be sought from schemes of 6-9 dwellings. However, in many cases these sums were not spent in the parish where the development occurred as local authorities were unable to find suitable sites. And many local authorities have been unable to spend the money at all.

Find the latest Housing Needs Surveys (but we’re on hold due to Covid-19)

Cambridgeshire ACRE typically undertakes about 8-10 Housing Needs Surveys a year, although we undertook 13 in 2020/21. The surveys have a lifespan of about five years. After this, a new survey is likely to be required to support a rural exception proposal. We are also undertaking an increasing number of surveys to support Neighbourhood Plans.

We’ve uploaded a table showing the 40+ parishes where we have surveyed in the last five years. The intellectual property rights to each survey report are owned by the survey sponsor. If you want to find out about any of the surveys listed please contact Cambridgeshire ACRE.

We’d also be happy to discuss proposals for new surveys across the county. However, please note that we have placed our survey programme on hold pending an easing of social distancing restrictions.

A Planner’s Guide to Community Led Housing

Jo Lavis, a nationally recognized expert in rural and affordable housing, has produced a guide for planners to support them in helping to deliver community led housing. The report has been produced on behalf of a number of regional and national organisations.

The report can be downloaded from the Community First Yorkshire website – https://communityfirstyorkshire.org.uk/plannersguide/

It provides a range of practical advice and guidance based on emerging good practice that can be used in both developing policy and development management. The guide also has a wider use for all those involved in commuity led housing including those who want to explore the issue through neighbourhood planning.

New case studies: Foxton and Whittlesford

Cambridgeshire ACRE were commissioned by South Cambridgeshire DC to produce two new case studies on recent rural exception schemes. Schemes at Newton Road, Whittlesford and Chalk Hill, Foxton were selected.

The Whittlesford scheme highlights the issues of developing rural exception schemes in the green belt and emphasizes the enabling role that strong community support played.

The Foxton scheme illustrates the inter-connection between consultation and design as part of an iterative process. Several improvements to the final scheme were made as part of this process.

Seminar and Tour for South Cambridgeshire District Councillors

South Cambridgeshire District Council is one of the leading local authorities in England for delivering rural exception sites. The elections in May 2019 resulted in a number of new councillors. Officers at South Cambridgeshire DC and Cambridgeshire ACRE  worked together to deliver a seminar and tour of rural exception schemes so councillors were better informed about the process and able to make a full contribution in supporting their constituent parish councils to help deliver affordable homes for local people in rural communities.

Councillors visited Home Close, Swavesey, the first scheme in South Cambridgeshire DC’s new council house programme. They also visited Station Road, Willingham where Cross Keys Homes are just completing a 22 dwelling affordable homes scheme and were able to see the quality of the design both inside and outside.

2019 Myth Buster Tour

Cambridgeshire ACRE ran its 5th annual Myth Buster Tour on 3 July 2019. Delivered as part of national Rural Housing Week, the tour attracted over 20 delegates including members from District Councils, Parish Councils, Community Land Trusts and Neighbourhood Planning groups. Delegates were able to see five rural exception schemes including a look inside some of the houses at Station Road, Willingham.

Feedback was excellent with delegates appreciating both the chance to see a range of schemes in situ and quiz the accompanying housing professionals about the details of the schemes.

You can see some photos of the schemes visited and download the programme.

Shared ownership demand forecast to rise 150%

Research by Savills has forecast that the ending of Help To Buy by 2023 will lead to a 150% increase in demand for shared ownership properties. They calculate that shared ownership is a much more affordable product for households on below median incomes.

Their research estimates that an income of £48,600 is required to purchase a house priced at £230,000 on the open market. With Help To Buy the required income falls to £38,800. However, a 50% shared ownership purchase would only require an income of £27,600 and a 25% shared ownership purchase would require an even lower income of £21,600.

See  https://cambsruralhousing.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/shared-ownership_savills_2019-06.pdf for the full report.