The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) has outlined how it hopes to tackle affordable housing problems in the Park, in a bid to achieve more sustainable communities in the future.
The lack of access to affordable and good quality homes has been identified by many communities as a key issue facing the National Park. Young people and those on low incomes in particular need better opportunities to secure homes in their communities.
At a special board meeting in Grantown-on-Spey on Friday 19 May, board members agreed a preferred strategic direction for affordable housing in the area. Among the measures members agreed to investigate and consult on further are:
- the principle of residency criteria to ensure that new market housing is meeting the economic and social needs of the Park’s communities;
- exploring a change to planning legislation to the effect that a change of use from a permanent home into a second or holiday home would require planning permission;
- encouraging greater private sector investment in the provision of affordable housing;
- encouraging and supporting community owned low cost rented housing.
The discussions that have taken place during the meeting and the decisions made by board members will now feed into the current consultation on the Draft National Park Plan and Local Plan. Only after the Park Plan is complete and approved by Ministers can the Park Authority’s preferred strategic direction become policy.
Studies carried out by Heriot-Watt and Manchester Universities for the CNPA and based on current trends, has predicted that the number of people aged 60-74 living in the Park will increase by 85 per cent from 2001 to 2025 while the number of people aged 0-39 years over the same period is expected to drop by 30 per cent. In order for the Park to be able to retain its young people, the studies estimate that around 114 affordable houses will be needed each year. Although these trends are common in many rural areas, the situation in the Park is more severe than the Scottish and Highland averages.
The popularity of the area means a high demand for housing, including second homes, increasing prices beyond the range of many people and placing pressure on the special qualities of the Park. In 2004 the average price for a two bedroom property across the National Park was £98,000 – £110,000, with only 38 per cent of people aged below 35 years able to get a start on the housing ladder.
Speaking at the meeting, the CNPA’s Head of Economic and Social Development Andrew Harper said: “The argument is made for intervention by the Park Authority in the housing market as a means of helping to achieve more sustainable communities while not compromising the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
“As a new park authority, we have come up with some bold proposals which we believe will help tackle the problem. If you look at any potential residency criteria for example, it will be possible to formulate them so that people who have a job to come to or a family connection to the area will not be affected. However those who are retiring to the area or purchasing a second home may not be permitted to purchase new market housing, only existing housing, unless they can meet the criteria. While this is controversial, it could prove to be a very useful tool in ensuring that we can encourage young people to stay in the Park, or come to the Park for employment, and keep our communities vibrant.”
CNPA Convener Andrew Thin said: “Some may think that introducing measures such as residency criteria on new build houses and changes to the Planning Use Classes Order are too restrictive but try telling that to the young family living and working here who are unable to afford a home of their own. Of course, these proposals are not just about whether someone has lived here for a period of time or otherwise, the Park Authority has a duty to promote the sustainable development of the local communities while also conserving and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of the Park.
“This is not an easy balance to strike so the Park Authority, working with partners needs to find innovative solutions – and sometimes make difficult decisions – to ensure that there is land provision in the Local Plan for affordable housing developments and that those developments are meeting the economic and social needs of the Park’s communities whilst not impacting on the Park’s special qualities. Of course, affordable housing is just one element of ensuring that our communities are vibrant and sustainable. Other areas which will impact on this are diversifying the range of economic opportunities, raising the quality of the tourism product and providing better education and training opportunities.”
For more detailed information on the preferred strategic direction and for further background please access this board paper in full at: www.cairngorms.co.uk/parkauthority/papers
To get involved in the National Park Plan consultation please contact the CNPA at: National Park Plan Consultation, 14 The Square, Grantown-on-Spey, Moray, PH26 3HG Tel: 01479 873535 / fax: 01479 873527 / email: [email protected]. The consultation closes at the end of June.