Housing crisis sees firms quit Devon

‘There’s a massive effect on tourism and the hospitality sector because there’s just nowhere for staff to live’

Owl draws attention to this paragraph from the conclusions of the Onward report on Levelling-up the South West:

Much of the employment in the South West is reliant on a few low-paying industry groups, namely accommodation and food services and retail. These industries are sources of pride for the region and its flourishing tourism sector, but it’s inescapable that both of them are also sources of lowpay and low productivity. This is paired with a skills shortage amongst young people, especially in Devon and Cornwall.

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com 

Businesses are pulling out of North Devon over the housing crisis, the council leader has warned.

At North Devon Council’s strategy and resources committee on Monday, September 6, members agreed to put together an informal panel, inviting relevant organisations and individuals to make representations with a view to preparing a set of actions and recommendations.

The meeting on Monday followed a public meeting organised by North Devon and Torridge Housing Crisis group in Barnstaple held on Thursday, September 2 in which they launched a manifesto with action points for both local and national government.

In his report, the chief executive of North Devon Council, Ken Miles said: “There is little doubt that the housing market in North Devon has changed significantly over the past 12-18 months. House prices have increased substantially and the permanent rental market has significantly reduced, partly as a result of the increase in the short term holiday let market. Many buyers from outside of the area have also been attracted during the pandemic. At the same time, the number of people presenting as homeless has increased significantly.

“Impacts are being felt by individuals, businesses, communities and by public services.

“The issues around the current housing crisis are complex and go beyond the holiday market. Issues such as empty properties, housing standards, energy efficiency, housing supply, affordability, national and local policies are all also relevant and need examination.

“For that reason, it is recommended that councillors and officers engage with the relevant agencies and organisations and those affected by the issues through an informal panel which will draw together a report setting out recommendations on actions that the district council can take and points on which government assistance is required.”

Speaking at the meeting he added: “We need to make it clear what we can do as an authority, what’s within our powers and what we’re going to ask of government. The purpose of the panel meeting is to make that clear.

“That then makes it clear to the public where the control is and where we’ve got to make representations and gives officers a clear steer on where we want to go.

“The panel group can also start setting the agenda; whether we want to look at empty homes, look at building properties, and so forth.”

He said all Devon district authorities had put together a paper which is being sent to Devon MPs raising several issues.

“It’s not just what we are talking about, but also the impact on the local economy as well,” Mr Miles said.

“There are businesses here in North Devon who are not investing in the region due to the lack of housing for their staff. It’s a situation we cannot allow to continue. We’ve got to raise that with government and do whatever we can to resolve it.”

Councillor Malcolm Wilkinson (Mortehoe, Liberal Democrats) said it had a massive effect where he lived in Woolacombe.

“There’s a massive effect on tourism and the hospitality sector because there’s just nowhere for staff to live,” he explained.

“When they pay a minimal wage in Woolacombe and £1.2million is almost the average price for a house, you can forget it when it comes to supporting hospitality.

“If you’ve got a place and you can let it out at £100 a day, it gives those working in the area no chance.”

Jeremy Mann, North Devon Council’s officer for planning, housing and health said the panel was ‘a commendable way forward’,

“The issues are extremely complex,” he said. “The nature of the council’s responsibilities are quite broad and I think the opportunity to look at the whole of it in batches and putting a report together at the end seems a positive way forward.

“It’s important also for our community to understand our care for them.

“A number of the representations that I received after the meeting last week was that as an organisation, we are not telling our story enough. This will be a really good way of showing that we have that care for our community and we are as anxious as anyone to balance the market.”

Councillors then discussed various other implications of the housing crisis and their thoughts.

Councillor Malcolm Prowse (Bratton Flemming, Independent) said: “Every parish council you talk to all agree that we should be allowed to build council houses again. That is the overwhelming feeling of people in North Devon. The old system used to provide the right sort of houses, with the right size and decent gardens in the right communities across North Devon.

“We are now in a situation where we’re relying only on the planning process to deliver housing and it isn’t quite working.”

He added: “I believe this authority should use its corporate powers more to intervene. We should be taking money, buying land, and do all those things people want us to do.

“I’m not saying turn it back to the days of the 1950s when council houses were often built in quite unsustainable positions, but there are plots of land around that we should get involved in.

“I think a lot of developers would be happier about doing a straightforward financial deal rather than getting involved in long complicated S106 agreements. We need that flexibility to do something soon.

“We need to get a move on in the next few weeks and get a policy which can make a difference soon.”

Councillor Netti Pearson (Ilfracombe West, Independent) said that land owned by the authority should be utilised and that they should take every opportunity to build council housing.

“We need to push to make sure it stays as council housing and doesn’t get sold,” she said.

“We need a lobby aspect to whatever decisions we make as there’s not much point in building homes only to see them go.

“As far as affordability is concerned, we should also be looking for a different definition. Affordability in this locale is not affordable to people on the average income.

She added: “I’d quite like us to have some sort of influence on estate agents and what they say in their adverts. They boast about how people can get 30 per cent more than the asking price, which simply fuels the inflation in the area.

“It’s a perfect storm at the moment.”

Councillor John Patrinos (Lynton & Lynmouth, Independent) said a lot of issues were outside of the remit of the authority.

“I know a lot of people don’t understand that and say what the council should do,” he said, “so we need to tell our story effectively.

“We can’t go and build council houses even though we want to, and we can’t provide lots of social rented housing as we just aren’t legally allowed to.

He continued: “At the meeting on Thursday, one of the leading campaigners Emma Hookway said she had spoken to the two local MPs. Unfortunately, she didn’t say what they had said, although I can guess.

“The only people with an opportunity to shape the damage being done in this particular area by current government policy are members of the current government’s party.

“We need to tell the story of what we are doing. Decide what additional things we can do, and then explain why we can’t do everything we’d want and then point the finger appropriately.”

However, Glynn Lane (Landkey Independent) said that it felt like a ‘political movement’.

He said: “I think you’ve got a situation here which is major. I don’t know if this district council can sort it out on itself, but it’s got to come down to government.

“When you talk about housing and all the rest it of it, it was this committee which turned around and tried to restrict housing in North Devon. Now you’re trying to get housing in North Devon. You can’t have it both ways. You either want housing or you don’t.

“You can’t turn around one minute and say you don’t want housing in one location and the next there is a crisis with housing.

“What do you actually physically want? I think personally, you need to take a broad look at yourself and what you really want in North Devon.

“The reality of life is, if you want somebody to have affordable housing in North Devon, you need to build houses people can afford to buy, or even purchase.

“I’ve seen in the last few months decisions made here is not right, and I think you need to look at yourself. It’s all very well trying to blame the government, but you can’t even organise yourself in here.”

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