National Housing Federation chief visits south Norfolk

Addressing rural Norfolk's affordable housing need has become more challenging as a result of government spending cuts, the head of the country's housing associations warned today.

Social housing rents are set to increase and housing trusts will have to be more creative to fund new developments, said David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation.

The housing association chief paid a visit to the Saffron Housing Trust headquarters in Long Stratton today and witnessed some of its local developments.

Mr Orr, who represents 1,200 associations, said building more affordable homes had become more difficult as a result of the measures announced in the coalition government's comprehensive spending review last year, which slashed the amount of capital grant funding for schemes. He added that the cutbacks would result in higher rents of up to 80pc of the market rate on new social homes and re-let properties to help pay for new developments.

Mr Orr, who also met with the chairmen of nine local housing associations today, warned that the central government changes could result in a rising housing benefit bill.

'This is an area like many parts of the country where we can not provide the homes people need and we need to find new ways of funding housing. It is not impossible; Saffron and other housing associations are pretty good at thinking creatively, but the new funding requirements will make it more difficult.'

'If we were able to get six new homes in every settlement of 3,000 or less across the country, we would more or less solve the rural housing problem. Part of the challenge is to get people to understand that building new homes will keep villages alive,' he said.

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Mr Orr's visit to Norfolk comes after the National Housing Federation and rural MPs launched a 'rural pledge' last month in an attempt to tackle the problem of affordable housing in the countryside. The pledge calls on housing associations to work closely with communities and to keep affordable housing affordable.

'There is not enough money to support housing associations to build new homes. I accept that there is a huge public deficit, but I do not agree that housing associations should take a 74pc cut. We need the access to land and we need people in villages and local neighbourhoods to be able to say there is a local need and local planners need to support that ambition,' he said.

Adam Ronaldson, Saffron Housing Trust chief executive, said South Norfolk already had more than 5,000 people on its housing waiting list and associations were 'cautious' in the current climate.

'It will be difficult to create more affordable housing because it is an expensive thing to do and it is something we are desperate to do. We need to increase people's understanding that when we are looking at rural housing, we are looking to house the people from that community and keep them in that community,' he said.