December 9 2013 Latest news:
By LUCY WRIGHT
Thursday, July 7, 2011
The Bishop of Norwich has called on churches of all denominations to help solve the affordable housing crisis by selling some of their unused land and buildings.
The Rt Rev Graham James said churches could and should play a key role in regenerating rural communities by using their property which would be sold to housing associations to build affordable housing.
He said: “It is not ownership of a house that matters, it is having a home to live in. In a county like this, some of our rural areas lack a sufficient range of property to enable younger people to stay where they are even when they find a job or create their own small business.
“We want to create sustainable communities, ones in which there are people of different ages, extended family ties, newcomers as well as those who have been around for generations. Without that mix, schools struggle and cross-generational activities become few. Even those who may benefit from the high property prices can sometimes feel the heart has gone out of a village if the number of people owning second homes reaches a second level or the demographic mean that the community consists only of the retired.”
Reflecting on an issue that remains a problem in rural communities across the region, where young people in particularly find it near-impossible to buy a home where they grew up, Bishop Graham said the challenge was plain enough - but achievable.
According to Shelter’s Local Housing Watch 2010, North Norfolk District Council only delivered seven pc of the affordable housing that was needed. Great Yarmouth Borough Council delivered 10pc while Breckland District Council delivered 15pc.
In 2010 in North Norfolk, the average selling price of a home was £190,000. The annual income needed to buy the home was £44,631 however the average gross annual income in the area was £16,913, the study by Shelter revealed.
The bishop added: “Strengthening and breathing fresh life into our rural communities is vital if we are to retain them as real places to live and work. Churches are exactly in the right place at the heart of our village life to take the lead role in creating sustainable communities.
“Working in collaboration with other churches we can renovate and regenerate our land and buildings to provide affordable homes and community resources for local people.”
He expressed concern about the great need for affordable housing and that the level or mortgage repossessions is running at around 100 a day.
Bishop Graham was speaking at the Faith in Affordable Housing East Anglia Conference at Norwich Cathedral organised by national Christian housing charity Housing Justice. He said there had been schemes for affordable housing on church land in the Burnhams and Hainford before but they had not come to fruition.
Housing Justice deputy director Alastair Murray said the church could bring the land and mission and the housing association could bring the developing skills.
He said it was where buildings were crumbling and congregations shrinking that would provide good opportunities for housing associations.
High property prices caused partly by the growth of second home ownership in rural areas was causing a breakdown in communities.
The Rev Simon Wilson from Churches Together, a body which represents Christian denominations, said: “People whom I work with in the community would really benefit from this. Affordable housing is an issue particularly in villages where people have second homes. I think it’s a very good idea.
“There is evidence that improved tenant satisfaction, economic participation and educational opportunities for social housing tenants are increased through integration of affordable and market housing into the development and connecting the development with the surrounding community.
“Using appropriate pieces of church land for affordable housing projects is a positive step in terms of meeting local affordable housing need and sending a message about the priority of developing and sustaining vibrant rural communities from within rather than from outside.”
Bishop Graham said: “The church bodies concerned may have a problematic building or site. Planning consent can sometimes be given for affordable housing where it wouldn’t be given for a more commercial development so land of little value on the open market may then acquire some capital value to the church.
“Sold at less than commercial value - the Charity Commission now allows this as ‘relief of poverty’ - the housing association involved benefits and so does the church body concerned.”
The scheme has already proved to be successful in Cumbria where Mitre Housing Association acquired land from the Parochial Church Council to build 11 homes last year. They also bought Coniston Church Rooms from the Diocese of Carlisle to convert into three more homes.