Policy H3: Rural exception homes

GBC Policy

Policy H3: Rural exception homes

Small affordable housing developments, including pitches for travellers will be permitted to meet identified local housing needs provided that:

  • the site adjoins or is closely related to, and in safe and easy walking distance of a defined or a non-defined rural settlement, and
  • the number, size and tenure of homes would be appropriate to meet, or to contribute to meeting, the identified local affordable housing needs, and the homes are all secured as affordable homes in perpetuity

GGG Response


Response Type OBJECT

This policy allows potential development OUTSIDE settlements even in Green Belt and includes wording to propose extension of this policy for Market housing.  This is a Trojan horse to allow development where it would not otherwise be permitted. Ensure it is made clear, as part of the policy (blue box), that this is an exceptional scheme only and that the overriding requirements of the NPPF, especially NPPF 87, 88 and 89, will apply in the administration of this policy so that it will only apply in exceptional circumstances.  Far from being exceptional, this policy seeks to introduce a scheme where housing could be built anywhere, with  no restriction, other than the general link to some form of connection with the Guildford housing list.

Detailed response:

Re rural exception sites, the NPPF deals with this in NPPF 54 which states:
“In rural areas, local planning authorities should be responsive to local circumstances and plan housing development to reflect local needs, particularly for affordable housing, including through rural exception sites where appropriate”.
This clause makes it clear that housing in rural locations should reflect local needs particularly for affordable housing. In this context local should imply with a direct connection to the local community only, not the wider community within the borough.

The following extract from the National Planning Policy Guidance is relevant:

Paragraph: 034 Reference ID: 3-034-20140306

Can unmet need for housing outweigh Green Belt Protection?

Unmet housing need (including for traveller sites) is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt.

Revision date: 06 03 2014

In fact it is clear that Guildford Borough Council sees rural exception housing not as an exception but as a normal mechanism for supply while disregarding the constraints of the Green Belt. 

It uses existing and projected affordable housing within the villages not in order to meet local needs but as a response to the general housing list,. This, per the NPPF, is inappropriate. It is symptomatic of the manner in which Guildford Borough treats the rural area – although containing 50% of the population of the borough- as merely ancillary to the needs and desires of the town. 

This is arguably in contravention of the requirements of NPPF where housing development in rural areas should reflect local (not borough-wide) need.
Such lack of earmarking has two potential problems. One is that there is increased pressure to consider too many rural exception sites which properly would not and should not be required.  The preferred response to this would therefore be to earmark affordable housing within villages for demonstrable local need.

The other, which should not be overlooked, is that it has the capacity to create a rural poverty trap. In Gomshall, for example, (the site of a significant number of new affordable homes currently being built by GBC) the cost of a single bus fare to Guildford is currently £3.50 and the cost of a single train fare to Guildford is £3.80. This is likely to prove a significant obstacle in seeking employment or the facilities needed by most members of a community (cheaper food from supermarkets; hospitals; dentists; secondary schools; junior schools (none of these are present in Gomshall)). Such a rural poverty trap is likely to be of less impact for those with family in the immediate area or those who work in the area; but for those on the general housing list it is inappropriate housing.
So if the affordable housing within villages is allocated to those with local connections, the need for the rural exception scheme falls away.
It should be noted that the NPPF requires the policies under which limited affordable housing for local need to be set out in the Local Plan; this should not set out the circumstances either of where these policies should apply, nor to whom they should apply – both would seem to be required.

One particularly shocking – developer led –initiative is the proposal which suggests that the rural exceptions scheme should be utilised to grant planning permission in the Green Belt OUTSIDE settlement boundaries for market housing. This is completely in contravention of NPPF.

The detail of this provision indicates that this will override all guidelines as to appropriate zones for development within the plan. It is wholly unacceptable.

NPPF 89 notes that “a local planning authority should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in Green Belt. Exceptions to this are:.. limited affordable housing for local community needs under policies set out in the Local Plan”. New market housing does not meet this criterion and should not be permissible. This is in clear breach of the requirements of NPPF and of planning law (St Albans, Gallagher homes) and should be deleted. There are no circumstances where it could or should be permissible to build market housing under the rural exceptions scheme.

Concerns have been expressed previously that the ordinary rural exceptions scheme could become a “Trojan Horse” policy allowing development that should not otherwise be permissible. This expression of that policy emphatically seems to embrace this concept.

This policy is much wider than the NPPF requirement that rural exception sites should be restricted to the local (i.e. parish level) need. The wording of this policy- “contribute to meeting.. local needs” means that GBC plans to use these to meet its normal housing list - the “local” is defined by GBC as meaning “current or former residents of the borough or have a family or employment connection“. So these would not really be local housing at all.

This policy requires radical revision in order to
articulate the requirements under which the rural exception scheme might be permissible, making it clear that 

  • it will not be permitted except where there is demonstrable unfilled local need which cannot be met elsewhere

  • make it clear what the requirements are to qualify for the scheme

  • ensure it is made clear, as part of the policy (blue box), that this is an exceptional scheme only and that the overriding requirements of the NPPF, especially NPPF 87, 88 and 89, will apply in the administration of this policy so that the provision of rural exception sites will only apply in exceptional circumstances.

Under no circumstances should the rural exceptions scheme be used to accept market housing.

2017 Guildford Local Plan

Guildford’s NEW local Plan has just opened for consultation. PLEASE RESPOND before 24th July 2017.  GGG has published its responses to Local Plan Policies here 

GGG Latest

Catch up on the latest news, issues and events from Guildford Greenbelt Group

Useful links

Find your way to the web sites of planning commentators, local residents' groups and much more