Campaign to Protect Rural England demands countryside to be exempt from plans, claiming families will be forced out of communities

New Lords showdown over right-to-buy threat to rural areas

Peers are raising concerns about country areas where low-cost properties are in short supply. By Henry Zeffman and Toby Helm for the Guardian

The government is facing a fresh confrontation with the House of Lords amid new warnings that its housing policies will deprive rural communities of affordable homes and make them the “exclusive preserve of the affluent”.

With many peers already uneasy about the effects of extending right-to-buy to housing associations, leading peers are now raising concerns about the impact of the policies on country areas where low-cost properties to buy or rent are in short supply.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)demanded that country areas be exempted from the latest right-to-buy plans. “Rural areas already face a shortage of affordable homes and an ever-growing gap between wages and house prices,” said Luke Burroughs, the campaign’s policy adviser.

“As homes bought under the right-to-buy scheme are inevitably resold on the open market at prices way beyond the reach of those they were built for, families and young workers face the prospect of being forced out. The government has attempted to allay fears by arguing that restrictions are in place and that each home sold under the scheme will be replaced. Yet these restrictions do not at all prevent the sale of affordable housing in rural areas, and replacements are not guaranteed to be built in the local area.

“Current rates also show that for every nine homes sold, just one new home is built. If we are to prevent rural areas from becoming the exclusive preserve of the affluent, rural areas need a full exemption from the right to buy.”

The housing bill has its second reading in the Commons on Monday but is expected to run into the most serious difficulty in the upper house, where peers last week demonstrated their willingness to defeat ministers over tax credits.

Writing today on Observer.co.uk John Healey, the shadow minister for housing and planning, says the bill “sounds the death knell for our ability to build the affordable homes to rent and buy that are so badly needed in urban and rural areas alike” and warns of a “looming row in the Lords”. Last month Alan Smith, the bishop of St Albans, who sits in the Lords and is the Church of England’s spokesman on rural affairs, criticised the government for “forcing” the right to buy on rural housing associations, and said the policy would “further endanger the supply of affordable rented accommodation in the countryside”. Now leading crossbenchers are preparing to join forces with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and some Bishops to try to force government to amend the legislation.

In September, after protests from across the housing industry, the Department for Communities and Local Government agreed a deal with housing associations under which they would not be forced to sell homes to tenants in all circumstances.

But peers still remain uneasy on many fronts. Lord Adebowale, a crossbench peer who has worked for several housing associations and is chief executive of the social care charity Turning Point, said he had balloted for a special Lords debate to raise concerns. “If you are ill or you’ve fallen on hard times or you have learning disabilities or mental health, or are leaving prison, which is a lot of people, you’re going to really struggle,” he said.

David Walker, the bishop of Manchester and a former board member of the National Housing Federation, attacked the government’s “disingenuous” presentation of its latest plans. He said many housing associations had accepted revised right-to-buy plans because they “felt they’d got a gun to their heads and with a gun to their head the best thing to do was to try to strike a deal rather than simply to resist.”

But communities secretary Greg Clark said: “Anyone who works hard and wants to become a homeowner should have the opportunity to do so, whether they live in cities, towns or rural areas. Our historic agreement to extend the right to buy gives housing associations the flexibility not to sell homes in places where they would be hard to replace, including in rural communities, with tenants in those areas instead given the right to buy an alternative property where new building is possible using their discount.

“Overall, the extended right to buy will increase housing supply as each home sold triggers the building of a new home, and is on top of our wider efforts to build thousands of new affordable homes for purchase as well as for rent.”

Source: The Guardian