The village building homes for young families

A street in Lavenham
Image caption For many visitors Lavenham is like an idyllic toytown

Residents of a picturesque village in Suffolk are going against the adage of "not in my back yard" by overwhemingly voting for a new housing development to be built in the desirable area. There is just one important proviso - at least a third of the houses must be affordable homes for young families.

For Lavenham's many visitors the village looks like a film set, with its hundreds of half-timbered, attractively crooked 15th and 16th Century houses, all lovingly restored.

"It's stunning," says one tourist. "Wonderful" and "very charming", says another.

Over at the village school, parents agree but feel there is something the visitors are missing.

"I think there's a perception that it's not a real place; that it's a bit of a toytown," says mum Justine Paul. "But it's not - it's a real place to live, with real people in it who have real needs."

Top of the list is affordable housing, according to resident Emma Paris, closely followed by more places in the school, which is full and often has to turn children from the village away.

"There aren't many young people. I think people can't really afford it. A lot of the houses are owned as second homes."

Katherine Eves, who runs the pre-school, agrees. "Housing in the area is very expensive. You can't get a house in the village for less than £250,000, and for young families that's a lot of money on the income they have."

The average salary for the district is just less than £26,000 per year but young people working in the village often earn much less, with the main form of employment being local retail jobs.

Image caption Many of the older residents are considering the future of their historic village

A consequence of low wages and rising house prices is that a third of the 1,800 people in the village are over 65 - twice the national average. There is a similar trend of ageing communities in many parts of rural Britain as young people head to larger towns and cities in search of better jobs and cheaper homes.

It is an issue which has led to some soul-searching by many of the older residents of Lavenham as they consider the future of their historic village.

"I'm not going to knock the over-65s too hard - I'm one of them," says Carroll Reeve, chairman of the parish council.

"But we've got to make spaces for the young families coming through the school. We've got to plan for the future. And unless we start to address that issue we could end up as a retirement home."

Pat Rockall, chair of governors at Lavenham Primary School, agrees and suggests young families are the lifeblood of the village.

"There has to be young life in any village. We have got to think about what this village will be like in 50 to 100 years, and we must do something now, to make sure it is a living, working, breathing community then."

Where can I afford to live?

Image caption Developer Malcolm Payne and landowner Roger Deacon have been granted planning permission

So the parish council has produced a Neighbourhood Plan - one of only 200 communities in England to do so - and put it to a local referendum. The village voted decisively - by 91% - for a plan which says developers must build at least 35% affordable homes - homes with low rents or shared ownership.

It is a common aspiration in many places, but frequently developers can avoid building affordable homes by claiming it is not commercially viable to do so.

But by adopting the Neighbourhood Plan, planners have a stronger case.

Infrastructure concerns

Last week planning permission was granted after landowner Roger Deacon insisted the developer builds just 25 houses on a site which could accommodate more than 40, with a third of them being affordable.

"We always said we wanted to leave Lavenham better than we found it, and we thought this was the best way," Mr Deacon says.

Malcolm Payne, from developers Hartog Hutton, says it is the first time he has ever heard of a landowner not wanting to maximise profits, but is willing to go along with the plan.

"We'd rather not have to build any affordable homes, but needs must, and everyone has to do it, so it's a fair thing."

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Media captionLeigh-Ann Green wants to find a permanent home in the village

Mother of two Leigh-Ann Green has just moved into a newly-built affordable home in the village. "We were really lucky to get this house," she says.

"But it's not our 'forever home'. We need a three-bedroom house and in Lavenham there aren't many available to rent.

"We'd love to stay here but if we could buy a house a few miles down the road then that's what we might have to do. Young people can't afford to stay here."

Of course not everyone in the village approves of more affordable homes. One woman said she had voted No in the local referendum.

"Where are these kids going to go to school? The school is already full. The infrastructure is not going to cope, and it will ruin an atmosphere that's gone on for centuries."

Another man says: "We mustn't go overboard on this so that we've got too many affordable houses. It is a village of older people and there's nothing wrong with that at all."

Image caption Sue Chalkley says affordable homes can counteract ageing populations in rural areas

The parish council has also created a Community Land Trust and bought an old storage depot from Suffolk County Council for the nominal sum of £1. It has teamed up with Hastoe Housing Association to build 18 affordable homes on the site.

A two-bed house will have an open market value of £210,000, with rents at around £550 per month.

Hastoe chief executive Sue Chalkley says affordable homes are essential to counteract the ageing population in many rural villages.

"Rural England is changing really dramatically under our noses and we're not spotting it. Young families are moving out in considerable numbers. Just in the last 10 years we've lost 10% of our young families.

"We're losing schools, we're losing bus routes, and the consequences are going to be permanent. I'm not sure the government really understands what's happening in rural areas."

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