Affordable homes

On Friday I visited a new housing development in Amberley where twelve affordable homes have been built by Saxon Weald for people who have a strong local connection but can't afford to buy a property in the village.

The project was started by Amberley Parish Council ten years ago, so it's been a long haul.  As the Chairman James Tolson - who does so much for the village and the South Downs - told me as we looked around, there were many hurdles to overcome, but they persevered.

And it appears to have been a huge success.  Not only does it help to meet a need for affordable housing in the village, but the homes look great and there are lovely views of the Downs.

And the scheme was carried through with overwhelming public support, as a consultation organised by the Parish Council showed.

Not that we should be surprised.  It's a good scheme that will help to maintain a healthy, vibrant community - essential if the village is to continue to support a local shop and primary school.

I hope we will see more sensible developments like this in the Downland villages.  With the average price of a house in West Sussex now standing at £210,000, up more than 10 per cent on last year, it's hardly surprising that many people are still finding it difficult to get a foot on the housing ladder.

But while we cannot build our way out of the problem of high house prices, we can make it easier for people who would like to stay in the area where they grew up, close to their family and friends.

It's one of the aims of the new Community Right to Build scheme, launched by Housing Minister Grant Shapps last week.

In sharp contrast to the policies of the last government, the new Coalition Government will give local people the right to decide for themselves where to build new homes, businesses and facilities in their village - subject to the consent of a large majority of residents.

Of course sceptics will say that there are too many nimbies in rural villages and nothing will be built.

But it's right to put the power and decision-making in the hands of villagers themselves.  And if we cut through bureaucracy and provide the right incentives, local people will be able to take the decision that's appropriate for their community.

I think we need look no further than Amberley to see that new and innovative schemes are possible.

Christopher N Howarth