In-depth: Housing trust’s £5m plan for the villages

VAHT garages to housing development in Lee Crescent, Stone
VAHT garages to housing development in Lee Crescent, Stone

For a long time living in the countryside has mainly been regarded as something reserved for the wealthy. Matthew Applegate and the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust want to change that.

The trust is undertaking a £5 million project aiming to redevelop up to 70 garages sites in rural and urban locations into around 200 affordable homes.

Matthew Applegate VAHT

Matthew Applegate VAHT

Many of these are in villages, places where there is so little social housing that it can be years before a property becomes available.

As of August 13, the waiting list for social housing in the Vale was 3,325 households, with 8,937 families in housing need across Bucks.

Mr Applegate, the trust’s chief executive, says the new sites are needed not only to help solve the current housing crisis, but also to revitalise areas where few young people live.

Mr Applegate said: “Fewer and fewer young people can afford to live in rural areas. Older people don’t have the same spending habits as young people.

“As a result there has been a real decline of economic activity. If individuals can’t afford to live locally they will take a view that they won’t work locally.

“If those communities are going to be kept alive they have got to be mixed tenure.”

Some would argue that living in the countryside should be a reward for years of hard work. But Mr Applegate says this has not always been the case.

He said: “If you look at demographic changes there has been a reduction in the number of younger people and children living in rural areas compared with five or 10 years ago.

“The cause of this is the lack of affordable housing in those areas.”

Another reason people might object to the plans is the stigma attached to social housing. Those living in it are often stereotyped as benefit scroungers and criminals, something Mr Applegate fiercely denies.

“We own one in 11 properties within the Vale of Aylesbury,” he said. “There are a lot of people that live next to our residents and don’t realise.

“They are as socially responsible and law-abiding as anybody else. There’s always a small minority of individuals causing problems and that will be picked up on.

“The people on the housing waiting list could be your or my children, people who are in full-time employment but still can’t afford to pay the market rent of purchase a property.”

Twenty of the trust’s planning applications have already been submitted or approved, including one to demolish homes and garages in Whaddon Chase, Aylesbury, a move met by strong opposition.

Last week two more applications, to demolish garages and build houses on sites near Oliffe Close, Aylesbury, and Bishopstone, were backed by the district council’s planning committee.

Though people may be unhappy at the thought of new homes springing up, the trust says the scheme has proved successful elsewhere in the past, such as in Stone.

In many cases the garages are no longer ‘fit for purpose’ and the alternative to housing would be spending money on redeveloping them for parking, something Mr Applegate says would not be as beneficial.

He said: “We don’t just wade in, we give these things sensitive consideration.Whaddon Chase has been compared to Beirut. That gives you an impression of what the site looks like. We could tidy the area up but we can’t keep it secure. Sometimes we get comments that it will lead to a reduction in the value of properties, which is just ridiculous. It’s only going to improve the area.”

However, even if all 70 sites are developed, Mr Applegate admits it will only be a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to what is needed to solve the housing crisis.