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Right-to-buy will hit affordable homes, say campaigners

housing association homes in Bristol Image copyright Getty Images

Rural housing campaigners are warning that the government's plan to extend right to buy legislation could decimate the provision of affordable housing.

Ministers intend to allow housing association tenants in England to buy their homes at a discount.

But the plans have been criticised by rural housing groups, who say they will further restrict the already scarce supply of affordable homes.

The government says it is listening to the concerns of campaigners.

Exact details of the scheme will be announced in the autumn.

Replacement homes

The founder of the Glastonbury Festival, farmer Michael Eavis, told BBC News the plans were "absolutely dreadful."

Mr Eavis has donated several acres of land over the past two decades to allow a housing association to build 22 affordable homes near the festival's site in the village of Pilton in Somerset.

"It would be absolutely fatal for this village. They'd be sold off in no time so they'd go to people who come in from outside."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael Eavis says he would not donate land again

And Michael Eavis says he wouldn't donate any more land if right to buy was extended to villages like Pilton. "It defeats the whole object of the exercise, which is to provide low cost housing to local people."

Extending right to buy to housing association tenants was a key commitment in the Conservative manifesto.

The scheme would allow tenants to buy their homes at a discount, which would be financed by councils being forced to sell their high value homes when they become available. The government says each house sold will be replaced on a one for one basis.

Selling land

Social housing makes up just 12% of rural properties, according to the Rural Policy Housing Review, 7% less than in urban areas. Rural house prices are also, on average, 26% higher than in urban areas as competition from commuters, retirees and second home owners push up prices, according to a survey by the Halifax in November 2014.

Housing associations often rely on local farmers being willing to donate land or sell it below market rates in order to build homes.

Ed Buscall, a farmer in Saham Toney, Norfolk was approached by Hastoe Housing Association and the local parish council a few years ago.

"They came to me and said the village school was under threat and that locals were finding it increasingly difficult to find houses here because of people retiring from London and pushing up prices."

The arable farmer sold the land cheaply and the housing association built eight homes, but like Michael Eavis, he wouldn't do it again under the government's plans.

"I wouldn't have sold the piece of land if I knew that in a few years time people could just sell it on to anybody."

Image caption The government may consider extending exemptions for some rural areas in England

Exemptions

One of the houses built on Mr Buscall's land is now occupied by Sarah Green, her husband and 2 daughters. A teaching assistant in the local school, she found it difficult to find a house in Saham Toney - buying a property in the village is not an option, she says, as prices are too expensive.

Ms Green is in theory the sort of tenant right to buy is aimed at helping. But she's not interested. "I don't think it's my right to have one of these houses. Where is everyone else going to go? And the younger generations coming into the village? Well, they won't be able to will they, as there won't be any homes like this."

Around 465,000 council houses have been sold in rural England since right to buy was introduced for council housing tenants in the 1980s, according to the National Housing Federation. Coupled with transfers of stock to housing associations, it means that 65% of rural local authorities don't own any housing stock.

Campaigners wonder therefore who'll compensate rural housing associations forced to sell their homes. The government say they're still consulting on the details but the housing minister, Brandon Lewis, strongly hinted to BBC News that urban councils will help fund rural sales.

"The government will fund that discount using high value sales," said Mr Lewis.

"Central government will ensure that housing associations are able to do 1:1 funding. We will make sure we support the discounts that housing associations will give, ensuring people can buy a home of their own. We will outline the details when we publish the housing bill in the autumn."

The smallest rural areas are already exempt from existing right to buy legislation - and the government is considering extending those restrictions.

But that might not be enough for rural campaigners, who fear that some villages will be overrun by second home owners and retirees snapping up former housing association properties as they come onto the market.

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