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Rural exception sites

Rural exception sites

What is a rural exception site?

A rural exception site is a site that sits outside the development framework boundary, which would never normally be given planning consent but may be considered where it provides affordable homes for local people.

A site where new homes are being builtHomes can only be brought forward on these sites if there is a proven unmet local need for affordable housing and a legal planning agreement, also known as an section 106 agreement (s106), is put in place to ensure that the homes will always remain affordable. This includes restricting the percentage that can be purchased under shared ownership properties to an 80% share. The s106 agreement also ensures that the homes will be for those in need of housing and prioritised for applicants with a strong local connection to the parish.

Guidance set out in the Government's National Planning Framework may allow a small element of market housing to be developed on rural exception sites to support the delivery of affordable housing where sufficient public subsidy is not available.

Land value on rural exception sites is valued lower as it sits outside the development framework for that area. As the land value is cheaper, more affordable homes can be delivered for local people.

We are proud of our record of bringing forward affordable homes for local people through the exception site policy, working with local communities and parish councils to provide homes supported and welcomed by the local community.

We encourage people to bring forward sites in their village that the community and Parish are keen to see developed as affordable housing for local people. Any site that has support will be more practical to take forward.

If you have a piece of land that you feel would be suitable for a small affordable housing development, please complete the Exception Site Registration Form

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Why do we need rural exception sites?

A young family standing outside a home

There is a national shortage of affordable homes available to rent and buy. With the huge gap between property prices and income, many young families have had to move away from the area as they are unable to afford to stay within their community. An exception site can provide homes for local people to live near their families and work.

We have successfully worked with partners over many years to build new affordable homes on exception sites across the district (between 200 and 300 each year), and we continue to do so.

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Do I have a local connection?

You would be considered to have a strong local connection to the village in question if you meet any one of the following criteria:

  • You have worked (been in paid employment) in the village for the last 12 months for 16 hours or more per week
  • You have lived in the village for at least 5 years out of the last 8 years
  • You have family members who are living in the village and have lived there for a period of 5 years or more. This could be one of your parents, children, or a sibling. Other close family ties will be considered in agreement with us on a case by case basis.

There are also special circumstances that we consider to give rise to a local connection. For example, if you have a significant role as a carer for a resident of the village in question.

Evidence of local connection will be verified by the allocated housing provider. They will need proof of address, length of residence, or proof of employment or any other special connection.

It is important to register on Home-link as soon as you can, as you cannot be nominated for affordable housing if not registered. If you wait until new homes are ready before asking for nomination, it is too late. If applying for Shared Ownership you must also be registered with your local Help to Buy agent.

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What is affordable housing?

Affordable housing is social rented, affordable rented, and intermediate housing that is provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market.A family being given the keys to their home

We expect exception sites in South Cambridgeshire to contain 100% affordable housing, with 70% being affordable rented housing and 30% being intermediate housing.

There are 3 different types of affordable housing that are listed below. Homes that do not meet the definition of affordable housing, such as 'low cost market' housing, may not be considered as affordable housing for planning purposes.

Social rented housing

This is housing owned by local authorities (we are the local authority for South Cambridgeshire) and registered providers for which guideline target rents are determined through the national rent regime.

an active community on a street of affordable housing

Affordable rented housing

Housing that is affordable rented is let by local authorities or registered providers to households that are eligible for social rented housing.

Affordable rent is subject to rent controls - rent must be no more than 70% of the local market rent. This includes service charges where applicable.

Intermediate housing

These are homes that are for sale and rent provided at a cost above social rent, but below market levels subject to the same criteria as affordable rented housing.

These can include shared equity homes (such as shared ownership and equity loans), other low cost homes for sale, and intermediate rent. However, this does not include affordable rented housing.

The rural affordable housing exception site process

The process of creating a rural affordable housing exception site is broken up into 3 phases; inception, feasibility, and construction. Each of these is broken down into multiple stages which are listed below:

A woman thinking about housingGetting started

Discussions are had about the affordable housing needs of the village. This can be started by the Parish Council, District Council, a housing association, developers, land owner, or through neighbourhood planning.
A process for community engagement will be made if the decision is to proceed further.

Could there be a need? If no, no further action is needed. If yes, move on to organising a Housing Needs Survey. If a site has been identified, it's feasibility must be assessed first.

Housing Needs Survey

A housing needs survey (HNS) is distributed to every household in the parish by Cambridgeshire Acre (commissioned by a council or housing association). Findings are then analysed and reported back to the parish council in conjunction with Cambridgeshire Acre.

If a need for affordable housing has not been identified, no further action is needed. If a need for affordable housing has been found, start the process of site identification.

Site identification

If no site has already been identified, search for sites by working with the parish council and housing association (if applicable). A strategic housing land availability assessment is carried out and a walkabout with Cambridgeshire Acre and the Parish Council is organised.

If no potential site has been identified, the search continues. Once a site is found, the inception phase finishes and phase 2, feasibility, begins.

Initial site feasibility by the Council

A representative of South Cambridgeshire District Council will undertake an initial site appraisal and check the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) for any previous assessments. The planning department will then be spoken to regarding the general suitability and the representative will attend a planning surgery.A man and a woman inspecting homes
If the site appears unsuitable for an exception site, continue the site search and return to the inception phase. If the site does appear suitable, you can begin to choose a registered provider.

Registered provider selection

If no housing association is linked to the scheme, a registered provider (RP) must be selected. The first option is to assess if South Cambridgeshire District Council can bring the scheme forward. The second option is to offer out to other housing associations operating in the district or through Cambridgeshire Acre.

The chosen registered provider will then assess the feasibility of the scheme and agree a housing mix with South Cambridgeshire District Council. If the scheme is not viable it will need to be re-assessed (such as changing the housing mix). If it is viable, public consultation will need to be arranged.

A woman giving a presentation to an audience

Public engagement and consultation
The South Cambridgeshire District Council representative, or the development team, will attend a Parish Council meeting with the selected registered provider to discuss the site identified. This will include an initial sketch layout, number of properties and what the mix of property types will be and explain the allocations process.
If the scheme is not ready to proceed, revise the scheme based on the comments and repeat. However, if it is ready to proceed, the scheme can begin to be designed.

Scheme design and planning application

The SCDC representative will need to attend a pre-application meeting with the registered provider, unless taken forward by Homes England (HE). They will also support any applications for Homes England grant funding. The selected registered provider will submit for planning. The representative will then complete the draft Heads of Terms to planning and attend the planning committee.

If the application was unsuccessful, revise the scheme if you can, or if not return the inception phase and start work to identify a new site. If the application was successful, proceed to the third and final phase – Construction.

Key milestones will be agreed with the chosen registered provider. These include:

  • Acquisition
  • Start on site
  • Date of allocations
  • Completion

The SCDC representative will keep the Parish Council informed, as well as agreeing the protocol of the completion and arranging necessary publicity.

Once allocations have been completed, the registered provider will complete the allocations schedule.

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Map of rural exception sites in South Cambridgeshire

A map of rural exception sites in South Cambridgeshire from March 2021

Map uploaded on March 2021

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Exception site examples

Council-built homes at FoxtonThis exception site of 15 new council homes (4 one bedroom houses, 6 two bedroom houses, and 5 three bedroom houses) to rent for local people was completed on January 2017.

It was also a finalist for the LABC Building Excellence awards 2018 in the category ‘Best Social or Affordable New Housing Development.’ and was built in partnership with Burmor Construction and The Design Partnership.

A number of council built homes at Foxton

A Council home in Barrington

This site was completed in March 2012. 

During development, Hundred Houses worked closely with The Barrington Green Charity and negotiations granted half an acre of the village green to add to the 1.8 acres already held.

After building 39 affordable homes around the village green, already the longest in England, an extension was added. In addition, a complex village green de-registration land swap was arranged, and the open space was transferred to the Parish Council.

A number of council homes in Barrington

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Type of property Rented Shared Ownership
1 bedroom flat 5 0
2 bedroom flat 8 0
2 bedroom house 0 2
3 bedroom house 10 9
4 bedroom house 1 0
2 bedroom bungalow 4 0
Total 28 11


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