Torbay Council sets up housebuilding company

Torbay Council has set up its own housing development company as part of its multi-million pound plans to tackle the housing crisis.

[You can guess that Torbay is not Conservative controlled – Owl]

Ed Oldfield, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

Torbay is the most deprived area in Devon with only half the national average of social housing. One in four households rent privately and an estimated one in four children live in poverty. The area saw homelessness rising before the pandemic with hundreds of families on the waiting list. A council report at the end of 2019 described the situation as a housing crisis.

The council is now pressing ahead with plans to use its own companies to build and rent  homes, as well as working with established social housing providers. The project is expected to involve the authority lending more than £40 million towards building at least 360 homes, with more than 200 for social rent.

TEDC Developments will design and build the properties to be rented out by TorVista Homes,  both council-owned companies set up by the TDA Group, which is owned by the council to deliver economic development.

TorVista Homes was given registered provider status by the social housing regulator in March, which allows it to receive funding from the government agency Homes England. The council says it plans to deliver a range of affordable housing including temporary accommodation, extra care housing, homes for older people, social rent, affordable rent and shared ownership.

Housing has been identified as one of the key areas to be tackled by the partnership of Liberal Democrats and Independents which runs the authority under its aim to tackle poverty. 

The amount of social housing in Torbay at eight out of 100 homes is less than half the national average of 17. 

The council’s cabinet is being recommended to approve a business plan for TorVista Homes. A report to a meeting on this week gives an outline of the project, but the business plan document is being kept confidential because it contains financial information.

The report said the plan sets out that of the first 360 homes to be delivered by TorVista Homes, more than 200 will be for social rent. It said the lower level of assumed activity will involve spending more than £62 million, with the council expected to provide loans of more than £45 million.

The report said: “The financial implications of this new venture for the council are inevitably considerable. The scale of development and the figures to be invested are considerable although this spend is complemented by significant investment by Homes England by the way of grant.”

It is known that the council has allocated £25 million of borrowing to kick-start the housing plans. It is bringing forward plans to build flats for older people at the Crossways shopping centre in Paignton, and develop housing off Preston Down Road.

Another social housing scheme being progressed by the council is on land at Tweenaway Cross in Paignton. Planning permission was given in October 2015 to demolish the empty houses and build two three-bedroom houses and five two-bedroom flats. But the project failed to go ahead and a new planning application was approved in March 2019 to replace the houses with eight two-bedroom flats and one accessible one-bedroom flat.

Plans are being drawn up to develop council-owned land on part of the Victoria car park site at Paignton. The authority has also done a deal to sell land at Little Blagdon Farm to housing developer Taylor Wimpey, with a condition that three in 10 of the homes are for social housing.

In May 2020, the council’s cabinet set an annual target of delivering 180 new affordable homes.

Housebuilding has slowed in recent years in Torbay, meaning the number has fallen below government targets.  The stock of future housing sites has also fallen short of the required levels.

That has given developers a stronger case for schemes such as Inglewood, near Paignton, where a new village of up to 373 homes was approved by a planning inspector in March.