So, just WHY is the housing trust bulldozing over rural gardens and garages to build new homes?

Tennant Georgina Petermann is upset at losing part of her garden in Bishopstone to make way for a housing trust cottage
Tennant Georgina Petermann is upset at losing part of her garden in Bishopstone to make way for a housing trust cottage
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Bosses at the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust have spoken out over the ‘crisis’ in rural housing – and why controversial garage and garden ‘grabbing’ is the best way to solve it.

With village-based planning applications often opposed, such as a recent proposal in Bishopstone, the trust said that schemes are an objective response to need and not simply a case of ‘build where we can’.

Head of development, Richard DeVille said: “Working in partnership with Aylesbury Vale District Council, we know the number of people on the waiting list, who is eligible for what type of property and where.

“This enables us to build a picture of target villages to develop in, and what type of properties are needed.

“Once we have an idea of where we need to develop, then we need to find a site.

“Changes to funding for social housing means that registered providers like the trust really have to maximise assets, as we simply do not have the capital to purchase potential sites against open competition with private housing developers.

“One way we are doing this is by developing underutilised garage sites’.

He said the garages, built to 1950s specifications, are often too small to fit modern vehicles, and frequently are simply used for household storage, although this is against licence terms.

They are often in a state of disrepair, targets for fly-tipping and/or anti-social behaviour, or at best have cars that don’t fit into the garage parked on forecourts.

Mr DeVille continued: “With some 3,500 families waiting for housing in Aylesbury Vale, many of whom have waited years for a village property, the thought of prioritising the housing of vehicles – let alone personal effects, or worse, junk – ahead of people, is simply inconceivable.”

He said that in a few areas, the trust has also reconfigured ‘excessively large gardens’ to create a development opportunity.

“This can be an emotive area if the affected property is occupied at the time and only ever occurs if the untouched part of the garden is still generous.

“However, particularly in our rural sites, many of the gardens are extensive and are indicative of a lifestyle most no longer lead.

“Some of the garden developments are a direct result of residents fencing off the area they felt they could cope with and leaving the rest.”

The trust is currently working with Mark Longworth of David Parker Architects, which specialises in rural properties.

Rural Housing Week starts on Monday and runs until Sunday, June 16.

Dean Gill, director of property and development at the trust said: “Rural Housing week affords us the opportunity to emphasise that rural housing is in crisis and it is not something that will be solved without building more affordable properties, where they are appropriate.

“I think it is important for people to realise that we do not just stick a pin in the map.

“There is a careful, evidence-based process to selecting and working up a development site.

“We are frequently asked if, when we build a property, it will be prioritised for a village family.

“It’s something that we would love to promise, and ‘local homes for local people’ is a frequent theme in the villages, understandably so.

“Unfortunately, legislation prevents the trust from imposing local lettings policies, but a parish council can make a request, for consideration as part of the planning approval.

“We hope to work with all of the parish councils concerned to ensure that as far as possible, the new properties house people with a strong local connection.” He added: ‘House prices have risen 76% in the rural South East in the last ten years. Without investment in affordable homes, many villages are at risk of being only for those on high incomes. People are priced out of raising their own family in a place and manner that they themselves were raised, and the wait for an affordable home can be many years – so they give up and migrate to towns.

“The trust’s vision says ‘homes for living, communities for life’ and this is never truer than in the rural parts of the Vale.

“Providing affordable housing for local families is imperative to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Vale’s rural communities, so that generations to come can enjoy local schools, shops and essential infrastructure.”