Urgent action agreed to tackle Devon’s housing crisis

Last week John Hart trailed this initiative in his press article “Perfect storm has created a housing crisis” [see Owl’s comments here.] 

Now we learn that John has cleared the next hurdle of getting his Council to agree to the cross-party, cross-council approach working through “Team Devon” (see article below). 

Of relevance to the debate is what is happening in Wales: 

The average [house] price in Wales has risen only 35 per cent since 2008, versus 77 per cent in London. The pandemic drive for green space has driven Welsh demand, according to the head of residential research at Hamptons estate agency, but not among second-home buyers: they are down 5 per cent year-on-year in the countryside (Wales brought in a 4 per cent surcharge on holiday homes in December 2020). It’s owner-occupiers moving from more expensive locations, and buying above £500,000 at record levels, who are fuelling the upper end of the Welsh market. (Extract from the Times)

(Wales is also consulting on further measures, including increases to council tax and closing loopholes on business rate relief on holiday letting) A recommended 35 min read as it discusses the pros and cons – Owl

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Urgent action to tackle Devon’s housing crisis has been agreed by councillors.

There was cross-party support for a range of measures to try to deal with the growing issue

It comes as new figures show house price rises in some parts of Devon are among the highest in the country.

At the same time the lack of affordable rental properties means key workers in care, health and education can’t fill job vacancies because they can’t find anywhere to live.

And more and more long-term rental properties are being converted to short-term holiday lets or sold off to take advantage of rising prices.

Devon County Council’s full council on Thursday backed the creation of a new strategic housing task force in partnership with Devon’s district, town and parish councils in Team Devon and other key partners such as Homes England.

The county council will also look at whether it can offer accommodation to key workers to attract them to work for the authority and lobby MPs to press for tax loopholes on holiday rental homes to be tightened up.

Devon County Council leader, Cllr John Hart said: “This problem is so serious that we need a united, cross-party approach. This is where Team Devon comes into its own.

“We are all talking the same language and should lobby together. We are speaking on behalf of 800,000 people.

“Together we have a more powerful voice in lobbying the Government for the changes that need to be made.”

“The county council is not a housing authority. That is the job of the districts and we are not seeking to usurp any of their powers. But it is why we want to work in close partnership with them, our town and parish councils and Dartmoor National Park under the umbrella of Team Devon, which has been so successful in developing a countywide approach to the pandemic.

“Together we have a more powerful voice in lobbying the Government for the changes that need to be made.”

Cllr Hart added: “Hospitality businesses in coastal areas can’t get staff because they can’t find anywhere to live and that is stifling our strong economic recovery.

“But we’ve also heard from one Devon business which employs around 300 people which is considering re-locating some of its operations to Bristol because of the housing situation here.

“The county council is struggling to fill hundreds of vacancies for care staff who can’t find anywhere to live. And that has an impact on our hospitals if they can’t discharge patients who could go home with some support from a carer which would free up beds, and some schools are finding it difficult to recruit staff because they can’t find accommodation.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Alan Connett said: “We all agree there is an issue and something needs to be done. Every one of us should be able to live in a safe, warm, secure home.

“I welcome the county council changing its approach and looking to help tackle the new and mounting challenges to provide homes for key workers. There is no doubt there is a real shift in the housing markets in a way councils have not seen before. My own view is that as a country we should start building council houses again.

“A century ago we talked of homes fit for heroes, as the men returned from World War I. Today, we still need homes for modern heroes, including former service personnel, emergency workers, health and social care staff.”

Labour leader Cllr Rob Hannaford added: “We must come together and work together to deal with this crisis. We can do more, we should do more and we must do more.

“Second home sales are soaring, private landlords are switching to holiday letting in huge numbers, significantly fewer homes are available to buy or rent and both renters and buyers are being priced out of the county in an unprecedented way.”

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show house price inflation in Devon is running at 13.4 per cent – more than Cornwall or Somerset – and some parts of the county are even higher. North Devon at 22.4 per cent is in the top 10 districts in the country for house price growth with Torridge on 19.8 per cent, the South Hams at 15.5 per cent and East Devon on 14.8 per cent.

Figures produced for Team Devon show Air B&B offering 253 rentals in Exmouth compared with just four residential lettings. In Ilfracombe the figures are 326 compared to four.

Cllr Hart said some necessary actions would need Government support but there was a lot councils could do themselves. Devon is to consider the potential to convert some offices or other properties into housing for key workers and offering grants towards deposits for house purchase.

The council will also look at whether it could offer accommodation to key workers to attract them to work for the authority and lobby MPs to press for tax loopholes on holiday rental homes to be tightened up.

Team Devon has a bid for Government cash to help promote small-scale housing projects providing local homes for local people under Community Land Trusts which is being led by Mid Devon District Council’s Chief Executive, Stephen Walford.

Councils could also learn from best practice in other areas and share ideas on how housing and planning policies could be adapted to ensure some affordable homes were allocated solely for essential local workers.

“There has always been an issue in Devon with young people not being able to live where they grew up because of low wages and high house prices but this is a perfect storm and we need to take urgent action,” added Cllr Hart.