Rural Exception Sites

The National Planning Policy Framework defines Rural Exception Sites (RES) as small sites used for affordable housing in perpetuity where sites would not normally be used for housing. Such sites have been used by many CLH organisations (particularly community land trusts) to provide homes for local people.

  • Rural exception sites seek to address the needs of a local community by accommodating households which are either current residents or have an existing family or employment connection
  • A major advantage of rural exception sites is that people with a local connection and with a housing need are given priority in the affordable housing allocation process. In the first instance, and for any future vacancies, exception site housing must always be offered to households in the parish within which it is located
  • Small numbers of market homes may be allowed on rural exception sites at the local authority’s discretion, for example where it is essential to enable the delivery of affordable units without grant funding
  • Rural exception sites work because the land coming forward will not obtain planning permission for 100% market housing, but it would provide a significant uplift in value compared with agricultural land
  • The development and occupancy of each rural exception site is controlled through a legal agreement, which the developer signs with the Council prior to the issue of the planning application decision notice. This agreement ensures that the houses developed on the exception site remain affordable in perpetuity, once the first occupiers have moved on
  • The affordable housing provided on rural exception sites should only be used to meet a clearly identified local housing need and is subject to strict occupancy clauses. The affordable housing is also required to remain affordable ‘in perpetuity’
  • For a community to be eligible for affordable housing delivered via an exception site, the Council must undertake a parish-wide housing needs survey to identify need. The results of the survey should demonstrate that there are people living in the parish/village who are in housing need and are unable to compete in the general housing market (to rent or buy) due to the low level of their income
  • The Local Government Association publication ‘Planning on the Doorstep: The Big Issues – Rural Housing’ looks at some of the key issues surrounding rural house building and provision of homes in rural communities and the use of RES.
  • Council officers seeking to support CLH groups who are looking to use Rural Exception Sites should therefore review the guidance and requirements thoroughly, referring the groups to it
  • Councils are able to draw up a generic Rural Exception Site policy that supports a community-led housing approach, eg by including criteria that a community have been integrally engaged in the process of bringing a scheme forward
  • Local authorities in rural areas can take a less traditional approach to Rural Exception Sites by including in their Local Plans a presumption in favour of genuinely community-led schemes. For example, East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Local Plan states that there will be a presumption in favour of genuine community-led development schemes, even on land not identified for development and including on land outside of development envelopes; ie Rural Exception Sites

This gives community-led housing groups an advantage in approaching landowners over traditional developers, who are not usually permitted to develop on land outside of development envelopes. The snapshot below is a good example of this approach in action.

ACRE (Action for Communities in Rural England) is the national network of 38 Rural Community Councils, some of whom are now actively involved in the promotion and support of CLH, particularly on Rural Exception Sites. Its 2017 Position Paper on rural housing is particularly supportive of CLH.

Relevant Resources

Example of Rural Exception Site - South Staffordshire

Example of Rural Exception Site - South Cambridgeshire


Stretham and Wilburton Community Land Trust, East Cambridgeshire


Last updated in March 2020