Planning applications validated by EDDC for week begining 12 July

Both the Telegraph and Times feature the Salcombe revolt on second homes

The story goes national under the headlines: “Millionaire hotspot Salcombe blocks second home buyers” (Telegraph) and “Salcombe pulls up drawbridge against the second-home invasion” (Times).

The Times, however, explains the intricacies of using “Section 106” agreements to ensure the concept of “principal residence” endures. (Planning officers more often chose to use planning conditions because they caused “less hassle”, but the Council wants to remove this option).

Salcombe pulls up drawbridge against the second-home invasion

Will Humphries, Southwest Correspondent

Some people will do anything for their own slice of the seaside idyll. Even if it means bending or breaking a few planning rules along the way.

The people of Salcombe, the Devon seaside town nicknamed Chelsea-on-Sea, have become so worried about the influx of second-home owners that they have enacted the strictest code against out-of-towners in the country.

In 2018 the neighbourhood planning steering group calculated that about 57 per cent of homes in the town were second homes. South Hams district council is hoping to curb this trend by making it a legal requirement that all newbuild homes be sold as a principal residence and stay that way for ever.

In the past, planning officers had the choice to attach a planning condition to a new development, stating it must be a principal residence, or draw up a Section 106 agreement with the developer, which makes it legally binding on the property’s title deeds.

Judy Pearce, Conservative leader of South Hams district council, said that planning officers more often chose to use planning conditions instead of Section 106 agreements because they caused “less hassle”.

She said that because planning conditions were not registered on the property deeds, unlike a Section 106, they often get “lost or overlooked” by homeowners and lawyers during house sales.

This allowed properties first bought as a principal residence to be sold on years later and added to the growing list of second homes.

“Particularly in the case of Salcombe, where people will do almost anything to get hold of a property,” Pearce said. “I am not saying people do cut corners but if you were of the mind to, it would be easy [to overlook a planning condition].”

The council has now voted to ensure that its neighbourhood plan demands all new developments, excluding replacement dwellings, must have a Section 106 agreement stating it will remain a principal residence in perpetuity.

“We had to take it to council because the planning officers wouldn’t sign it off,” Pearce said. “The officer who deals with neighbourhood plans agrees with us but the majority didn’t.”

Salcombe has long been a mecca for the boating fraternity. Wealthy out-of-towners arrive in the summer months to sail on the Kingsbridge estuary and moor up in sandy bays for lunch. The population can rise from about 2,000 during the winter to more than ten times that in summer. The closest railway station is a 40-minute drive away in Totnes and trains to London take about three hours.

The new neighbourhood plan amendment will be assessed by an independent examiner before it is officially approved as part of the planning framework for Salcombe. Nikki Turton, the town mayor, said that the blanket use of Section 106 agreements would ensure the town “doesn’t need to keep an eye on every property and report constantly on possible breaches”. She added: “We want families to come and live and work here. We are not just a holiday destination, we are a thriving town and we want to exist in the future.”

The average wage in Salcombe is below the national average but the cost of buying a home is about £750,000, with a majority selling for well over £1 million.

Blair Stewart, a local estate agent with Strutt & Parker, said that there “have been instances” of planning conditions being avoided during house sales. “It’s not rocket science that clever solicitors and lawyers will find ways and means of getting around things,” he said. He believes the new rule will cause “quite a significant issue” for people looking at new developments, which typically cost between £800,000 and £1.5 million, if they have to commit themselves to making it their principal residence.

“It is the significant upper end of the market, which tends to be new developments. There are virtually no affordable homes in Salcombe,” Stewart said.

Property values in and around Salcombe have risen by 10 to 15 per cent in the past year. Stewart said that he had seen a 30 per cent rise in buyers coming to live full-time in Salcombe in the past five years, with draws including Ofsted-rated outstanding primary and secondary schools and improved wifi coverage. “It helps that the head of BT has a house in Salcombe and sorted that out,” Stewart said.

An idea that is catching on

Salcombe is not the first seaside town to move to tighten its planning rules.

St Ives voted to ban the selling of newbuild properties as second homes in 2016, and has been followed by other Cornish tourist hotspots such as Fowey and Mevagissey.

These towns have passed neighbourhood plans stipulating planning conditions that newbuild properties must be sold as principal residences.

However, none of them has gone as far as Salcombe, which is looking to dictate that only a Section 106 agreement attached to the title deeds can be used.

Since St Ives voted for its neighbourhood plan there has been much debate about whether it will have the desired effect of making more affordable properties available to local families. Some estate agents insist that the regulation is hampering supply.

A London School of Economics study published in 2019 said that the policy had led to an increase in the price of existing homes because prospective second-home owners were competing for them with residents. Professor Christian Hilber, who led the study, said a better option would be a local annual tax on the value of a second home.

Councillors have said that it is too early to judge the merits of the policy. However, before the pandemic the average property price had risen 3 per cent since 2016. At times in the past decade prices were growing by more than 10 per cent a year.

Boris Johnson’s planning reforms could turn southern England into urban sprawl

The British government is trapped again by the picaresque politics of Boris Johnson. When the pandemic has subsided, the legacy of 2021 could yet be something more long-lasting – the permanent scarring of the landscape, courtesy of the 2019 parliament.

Simon Jenkins 

Last spring, the prime minister trumpeted the “tearing down” of English town and country planning regulations, in place since the 1940s. That was enough to have him pummelled at last month’s Chesham and Amersham byelection. The planning minister, Robert Jenrick, then protested that “tearing down” did not mean “ripping up”, whatever that means. He is now wrestling with a shambles of reform.

At the root lies Johnson’s perfectly commendable ambition to “level up” the north and south. Britain has one of the most regionally divided economies in the developed world, with parts of northern England poorer than the regions that used to make up East Germany. Johnson rightly wants to divert wealth, talent, investment and productivity in that direction, but he has no clue what this means.

Jenrick’s response is to seek to cram even more houses – and thus people – into the south-east. Backed by his army of Tory-donor property developers, he hopes to designate specific areas of countryside – mooted as “30% of UK land” – as protected, and with a casual presumption in favour of “developing” the rest. Since protection likely includes the mostly mountainous areas of Wales and Scotland, it is hard to see a vision of southern England as anything but open to a creeping, Los Angeles-style urban sprawl. This means ending 50 years of the once-prized divide between Britain’s towns and their surrounding countryside.

The ambition to promote building in the south plays on Johnson’s other arbitrary ambition, to build some 300,000 houses – their location unspecified – every year. Given that permission already exists for a million homes in land banks, this appears to be mere lobby appeasement. But the consequence will likely be a dramatic rise in housing imposed on the countryside. Analysis by the CPRE, the countryside charity, of the algorithm devised to calculate housing needs shows Johnson’s Uxbridge seat will have to find room for 10 times more houses than Rishi Sunak’s Yorkshire one. This is hardly “levelling up”, and has led Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, to condemn building “the wrong homes in the wrong places”, and the former Tory leader William Hague to label the proposed planning reforms “Johnson’s poll tax”.

The reality is that English housing policy is still in the dark ages. Jenrick should be promoting downsizing, taxes to discourage under-occupation, the renovation of old building and increasing housing density in suburbia. There is no need to build on greenfield rather than brownfield land anywhere in Britain. Ministers seem to think the only “real” house is a car-dependent executive home in a southern meadow. It is, as Jenrick says, a “dream” – but that is not a need.

The way to level up the regional divide is to make northern towns and cities more attractive places to live. This means stopping Manchester and Liverpool letting developers turn them into concrete jungles – and avoiding such humiliations as having Unesco this week strip Liverpool of its world heritage status. It means galvanising the creative potential of old Victorian city centres such as those of Bradford and Huddersfield. It means smart conservation, not mindless destruction. British town and country planning must recover both its architectural flair and its democratic virility.

Rumour has it that Jenrick’s department is now frantically trying to “de-Cheshamise” his planning bill. This could mean abandoning the simplistic zoning plan and restoring democratic control over planning permissions. It is absurd for him to claim that this will impede development. Some 90% of planning permissions in England go through. Otherwise local democracy’s only defence will be endless resorts to the courts. Already, judges are forced to become substitute town planners. Hence Johnson’s frantic steps to curb judicial review. The man is, heart and soul, an anti-democrat.

Jenrick’s other controversial proposal is to loosen restrictions on change-of-use in high streets, to hasten their switch from communal hubs into “volume” housing. That high streets need reappraisal is beyond doubt. The idea that local people deserve no control over the future of their high streets is centralist arrogance.

Jenrick has recently claimed to want houses to be “built of local materials” and erected in tree-lined streets. So do we all, where appropriate. But who is to decide? The answer is apparently a corps of Whitehall aesthetes, replacing generations of planners responsive to their residents. These decisions must be returned to localities. Like politics, all true planning is local. Many terrible things may happen to Britain in the aftermath of the current pandemic. It would be a tragedy if the guardianship of the built and rural environment becomes another casualty. We are told that Britain is not going the way of Los Angeles. Would someone kindly explain how?

Coastal towns economies set to benefit from £10m fund

Before readers get too excited this Exeter University project is one of six sharing £9.2 million funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Will any cash actually filter down to local economies? – Owl

Patrick McAndrew 

The University of Exeter has announced a new project which will aim to aid the economies of UK coastal towns as part of a new nearly-£10million fund.

The “Sustainable Development and Resilience of UK Coastal Communities” project will first focus on a range of locations across Devon and Cornwall before applying the practices across the rest of the UK.

University bosses say the project aims to “build the marine economy while protecting ecosystems and communities”.

With a focus on local maritime communities, the university is working in partnership with Devon Maritime Forum and Cornwall Rural Community Charity in the attempt to revitalise areas that face the challenges of the climate emergency, Covid-19 and Brexit.

Dr Louisa Evans, who will lead the project, said: “Marine resources and coastal heritage are some of the country’s greatest assets.

“I am over the moon to have this opportunity to help coastal communities and marine ecosystems thrive now and in the future.

“Our programme will identify how people and livelihoods can be more resilient to environmental and social change, while also improving the well-being of coastal communities and the health of the marine environment.

“We will deliver these benefits across different projects and policies, ranging from sustainable seafood and marine apprenticeship schemes to coastal heritage decision-making and marine conservation policy.”

Steven Guilbert of the Devon Maritime Forum added: “This project will allow us to focus on key areas of interest, namely: blue growth, marine conservation, and climate and coastal change.

“This, in turn can lead to more effective and sustainable outcomes for the marine environment in Devon and the wider South West peninsula.”

The project has been announced soon after England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty highlighted the difficulties many coastal towns, including Torbay, face in his annual report last week.

He said: “Coastal areas are some of the most beautiful, vibrant and historic places in the country but they also have some of the worst health outcomes with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases.

“These communities have often been overlooked by governments and if we do not tackle these issues vigorously, they will get worse as the current population ages.”