In our latest Q&A on the big issues in residential development, PWA Planning director Paul Walton offers his thoughts on rural housing development and how it may be affected by external forces such as Brexit and an oversupply of sites.
1. How is the Brexit situation affecting land prices?
There’s no firm indication yet that Brexit is having a material effect on rural land prices. I think that’s because the position is still so unclear. The hope would be that Brexit uncertainty doesn’t lead to a reduction in economic development, which would have a knock-on effect on housebuilding and hence lower land prices.
More central to the issue of land prices presently is the oversupply of sites. In Lancashire for example, there are lots of new sites and some large amounts of land coming forward, so developers can pick and choose what sites they want to develop. This abundance of sites is keeping land prices in check.
2. Are we still seeing a rural land grab for housing? What challenges and opportunities is this creating?
In areas where local authorities continue to struggle to demonstrate an adequate housing land supply, lots of smaller sites are being snapped up and built on. Authorities like Fylde, Lancaster, Ribble Valley and Wyre to name a few within Lancashire, with extensive rural areas are subject to developer pressures.
This often translates into developers picking off the easy meat on the edge of rural settlements, knowing they will get planning on appeal if the application is unsuccessful. Many of the sites that do exist tend to be in generally rural areas, which of course presents challenges for local authorities and residents alike.
3. What are the wider opportunities and threats facing the rural property sector?
The opportunity for towns and villages concerned about new development is in coming together to shape their neighbourhood plan. Taking a proactive approach will help communities identify the sites where they want to support development and those where they don’t. If embraced properly, neighbourhood planning can help rural communities protect their interests and facilitate more controlled development.
In terms of challenges, poor broadband connectivity is still a major issue and not just in remote rural areas. Even schemes on the edge of major towns are being jeopardised because of poor broadband.
4. What does the future hold for the rural property sector at large?
Understanding what type of Brexit deal we’re going to have is vital for understanding how the rural property sector is going to perform in the future. We need an exit from the EU that will give support to agricultural businesses and rural communities.
If the sector doesn’t get the right support, we could see some agri-businesses going to the wall. What’s needed is a clear strategy for protecting rural communities, but also for facilitating the controlled development that will help them thrive.