COUNTRYSIDE communities at the epicentre of a housing crisis will be put at the forefront of planning policies to shape strategies for new homes, the chairman of a rural taskforce has pledged.

The affordable homes crisis in North Yorkshire is particularly accentuated in the county’s rural areas, with the most desirable locations commanding property prices that far outstrip average wages.

Members of the North Yorkshire Rural Taskforce have met to discuss an action plan to tackle a host of issues blighting countryside communities, from a lack of public transport, poor internet and mobile phone coverage and the need to introduce more sustainable energy supplies.

However, the issue of providing more affordable homes was one of the key subjects discussed by the taskforce, with calls for planning policies to take into account the need for more rural housing when a new council in North Yorkshire is launched.

The chairman of the rural taskforce, Richard Flinton, who is the chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “The issue of affordable housing has long been a problem affecting countryside areas not just in North Yorkshire, but across the whole of the country.

“But we fully recognise that to ensure rural communities can remain sustainable in the future, there needs to be a greater focus on providing homes that people can actually afford.

“The launch of a new council in North Yorkshire provides us with an opportunity to have a renewed focus on issues such as the affordable housing crisis, and every effort will be made to shape planning policies to cater for the need to bring more homes into rural parts of the county.”

House prices in the Yorkshire Dales are about a third higher than the county’s average. The average cost of a property in the Dales is nearly £400,000, while the weekly wage in North Yorkshire is just over £530.

There is a high demand for second homes, increasing the strain on an already limited housing stock. According to the National Housing Federation, there are 8,199 second homes in North Yorkshire – the highest number in the region.

A final report is due to be published by the taskforce later this year outlining how the Rural Commission’s recommendations can be taken forward.

The Rural Commission itself met 20 times, taking evidence from more than 70 participants, including MPs and government officials. Three visits were made to rural communities, while 27 written submissions were considered.