Big payouts for tenants who downsize

Devon tenants are in line for a payout of up to £5,000 if they downsize to free up their home for a family.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

The scheme is being promoted by West Devon and South Hams councils, who say it is open for anyone renting a home that is bigger than they need in the area they cover.

It applies to tenants of housing associations or registered providers of social housing and is a response to what one councillor described as a “housing crisis” due to a lack of larger properties.

The councils say there is currently a shortage of three and four bedroom homes for local families, with many struggling in cramped conditions.

A statement said: “The scheme is designed to help tenants to downsize to smaller homes as their household needs change.

“For example, when children grow up and leave home. This, in turn, helps the council to free up some of the larger homes in our area for younger families in need.”

Private sector rents have been rising and properties turned into holiday homes due to a rise in demand for staycations as a result of the pandemic, leaving people struggling to find a property and increasing pressure on the social housing stock.

The district councils covering South Hams and West Devon have now introduced an extra ‘High Demand Area’ payment of £2,500 due to the shortage of larger family homes.

The total payment downsizers will receive depends on how many bedrooms become available due to the move.

It includes a £1,000 fixed payment, the extra £2,500 High Demand Area sum, and £500 per bedroom released, with the total capped at £5,000.

For example, if you move from a four-bedroom property to a two-bedroom property you will receive £4,500.

According to Devon Home Choice, there are 46 families in the two council areas classed as severely overcrowded.

That means they need a home with two or more extra bedrooms, or there are at least two children in the home lacking a bedroom. There are also 300 families waiting for a home with an extra bedroom.

Nearly two million children in England are living in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes, research has revealed.

The report from the National Housing Federation shows the biggest single housing issue affecting children in England is overcrowding.

The councils say it found there are 1.1 million children living in overcrowded homes, which is having a detrimental impact on their health and development.

There are also a million children whose families cannot afford their rent or mortgage payments, while 293,000 children live in homes that are unsuitable for their needs or health requirements.

A further 283,000 children living with their families in other people’s homes, the report found.

The National Housing Federation said the research shows 1.3 million children are in need of social housing as this is the only suitable and affordable type of home for their families.

It is calling on the Government to prioritise long term and sustained investment in social housing as part of its ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Cllr Judy Pearce, South Hams District Council’s Executive Member for Housing, said: “We face a housing crisis here in the South Hams with too many families living in cramped conditions and we want to change that.

“By helping people to move out of homes that are now bigger than they need, for example when their family grows up and leaves home, we can make sure the next generation also have a suitable home to enjoy.

“This scheme is all about looking at the homes we have in the South Hams and making sure they are allocated as effectively as possible – that means doing what we can to make sure residents live in homes that are the right size for their needs.

“If people are interested in moving, our team can give you practical support. We’ll help you to find a suitable alternative property in the location that you want and with everything you need close to hand.

“As a downsizer, you will be awarded a high priority band for bidding on properties on Devon Home Choice – including priority for brand new homes on the latest developments. We’re also increasing the amount of money you will receive to make that move easier.

“Maybe you’ll choose new items for your kitchen or a new TV to fit your new home. Maybe you’ll spend the money on new carpets or curtains.

“Or maybe you’ll treat yourself to something completely different. You can spend the money however you want and know that by moving you’re helping a young family to have the best start in life.”

Cllr Barry Ratcliffe, West Devon Borough Council’s Lead Member for Housing, said: “We desperately need to make some of our larger houses in the borough available for the local families who are currently struggling in homes that are too small.

“That’s why we’ve decided to give as much help as possible to anyone who is thinking about moving to a smaller home, for example because their own family has grown up and moved away.

“Our team can give practical support with things like filling in forms for making the move. You’ll be given priority, so you can choose a new home in the location you want – including brand new homes on the most modern developments.”

Who is eligible

The Tenants Incentive Scheme is available to applicants who met the following criteria:

  • are an existing Housing Association tenant on an Assured tenancy, living in the council areas and whose housing association landlord confirms that the nomination rights for the property being vacated will be given to South Hams or West Devon council;
  • are in a family-sized house – two bedrooms or larger;
  • want to move to a property that is at least one bedroom less;
  • are registered on Devon Home Choice;
  • where the move will not result in overcrowding.

How to apply

The councils say the scheme is limited and subject to change. Anyone interested should email devon.homechoice@swdevon.gov.uk or call 01803 861234 (South Hams) or 01822 813600 (West Devon) to find out more and to apply for the available funding.

NHS England strikes private hospitals deal to fight Omicron surge

What we need are community hospitals – oh wait …..

Hospitals in England will be able to use private hospitals and staff under a deal with the NHS to maintain services as Omicron cases surge, avoiding delays in treatment for patients with illnesses such as cancer.

Sarah Marsh www.theguardian.com 

The move comes as hospitals have also been told to find extra beds in gyms and education centres owing to rising numbers of Covid patients.

The three-month agreement means private healthcare staff and facilities will be on standby to support the NHS if required and to maintain services for patients who can be referred, including some of those waiting for cancer surgery.

Nightingale hubs are being created in the grounds of some hospitals as part of a move to create up to 4,000 extra beds.

Announcing the deal, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “This agreement demonstrates the collaboration across our healthcare services to create an additional safeguard that ensures people can continue to get the care they need from our world-leading NHS, whenever they need it.”

The move has been put in place to make sure the health service is not overwhelmed and to avoid implementing further Covid restrictions on socialising at pubs, clubs and sports venues as have been introduced in Scotland and Wales.

Last week, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said more than one in six NHS trusts across England had declared a critical incident due to Covid pressures in recent weeks, adding that the Omicron variant was putting “very real” pressure on the health service.

The agreement includes Practice Plus Group, Spire Healthcare, Nuffield Health, Circle Health Group, Ramsay Health Care UK, Healthcare Management Trust, One Healthcare, Horder Healthcare, Aspen Healthcare and KIMS Hospital, the NHS said.

Paolo Pieri, the CEO of Circle, said that since the first Covid wave in March 2020, its hospitals had supported the NHS by performing urgent, life-saving operations and treatments for more than 400,000 NHS patients.

“We stand ready to support the NHS in its time of need,” Pieri said.

Spire said the final details of the contract still had to be agreed. The deal expires on 31 March.

A Whitehall source told the Telegraph: “We are going to do everything we can to avoid more restrictions … Our lines of defence through vaccines, testing and antivirals are crucial and holding up but we are also boosting NHS capacity as much as we can.

“Sajid wants the NHS to make use of the independent sector if needed. The aim is to ensure as much capacity as possible is available to help the NHS get through the Omicron wave.”

In March 2020, a similar deal costing about £400m was agreed, when private hospitals provided more beds, ventilators and thousands of healthcare staff to help the NHS fight against Covid. At the time, 20,000 staff were offered, including 10,000 nurses and 700 doctors.

The Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI), a thinktank that has raised concerns about how little NHS-funded work was done under the previous deal, said it doubted the independent sector had the capacity to treat meaningful numbers of NHS-funded patients.

“This new announcement raises more questions than it answers,” said Sid Ryan, a researcher at the CHPI. “Firstly, it’s not clear what help the private sector can really provide when it relies so heavily on NHS consultants working privately outside their core NHS hours. The private sector may have beds, but their workforce is vanishingly small, and just as challenged by Omicron as the NHS, so it seems unlikely their support will be the key difference-maker.

“The last time NHS England stepped in to override local contracting by NHS trusts, the taxpayer ended up footing the bill for a lot of empty hospital capacity. Are we risking that happening again?”

The number of hospitalisations has been slower to rise than Covid cases, relative to previous waves of the disease, with ministers buoyed by the booster rollout. However, hospitals have struggled as a result of NHS staff being among the hundreds of thousands of people self-isolating because of the rapidly increasing number of Omicron cases.

Three months is a long time in the life of a Police Commissioner

Unveiling her strategy for 2021-25 at the end of September “Alison Hernandez says she takes it seriously but…”, she said key community priorities are breaking the cycle of violence, reducing drug harm, tackling antisocial behaviour and improving road safety. 

Alison Hernandez responded to suggestions that tackling gender-based violence isn’t given high enough priority in her draft plan.   

She said it was important to note that, although violence against women is an important issue, it is crucial to see the statistics in perspective.   “I will just highlight that men are more likely to be a victim of crime than women, and that more men are likely to be murdered than a woman,” she said.

Fast forward three months, Plymouth has new priorities:

Violence against Plymouth women and girls is being tackled

Daniel Clark www.plymouthherald.co.uk 

A commission which has been formed to review what more needs to be done to prevent violence against women and girls in Plymouth will meet for the first time on Monday.

The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Commission will review what is being done across the city to educate men and boys, prevent and deter these types of crimes and consider what support is available for victims.

It will invite local organisations who work with female victims of violence, to hear more about their experiences and their recommendations about what more needs to be done.

The commission was set up following the death of 18 year-old Bobbi-Anne McCleod who disappeared from a bus stop in the Leigham area of the city last month. Cody Ackland, 24, has been charged with her murder.

The Commission will meet for the first time on Monday, January 10.

A protest in Plymouth which calls for an end to male violence against women following the disappearance of 18-year-old Bobbi-Anne McLeod.

A protest in Plymouth which calls for an end to male violence against women following the disappearance of 18-year-old Bobbi-Anne McLeod. (Image: Eve Watson)

Chair of the Commission, Cllr Rebecca Smith, said: “Last year we saw the tragic murders of a number of women in our city at the hands of men. This kind of crime is not unique to Plymouth, however as we heard at our virtual Q and A in December 2021, many women and girls sadly do still feel fear, intimidation, harassment and helplessness on a regular basis. We cannot let this continue.

“Too often the responsibility for tackling male violence against women and girls falls on women. In Plymouth, we want to tackle this issue at the root, whilst supporting anyone who is a victim of this type of crime.

“We have put together an extensive panel of experts from across Plymouth and beyond, who are all committed to the same goal, and I look forward to working with them over the weeks and months ahead.

“On our journey, I am also really pleased that we are able to get guidance and advice from Nazir Afzal OBE – who is a national leading expert in this area.

“One of the first things our Commission will be looking at is ensuring that we have a wide engagement programme, ensuring that as many voices as possible across Plymouth have an opportunity to help shape our work.”

In addition, former Chief Crown Prosecutor for NW England, Nazir Afzal OBE, will be working with the Commission as an independent advisor, bringing expertise from his 24 year career prosecuting the most high profile cases in the country and advising on many others.

He has led nationally on several legal topics including Violence against Women & Girls, child sexual abuse, and honour based violence. His prosecutions of the “Rochdale grooming gang” and hundreds of others were ground-breaking and drove the work that has changed the landscape of child protection.

Over the next three months the Commission will aim to shine a spotlight on the national issue of violence against women and girls and to understand more about the issue for those living in Plymouth.

To do this, the Commission will work:

· To take a proactive stance to better understanding a wide range of views and experiences, and consider what more needs to be done to tackle the issue.

· To improve the perception, and the lived experience of women and girls that Plymouth is a safe city.

· To promote a better understanding of the causes and means of addressing male violence against women and girls.

· To provide impetus for key partners and the private sector to review their contribution to tackling VAWG in the city.

· To take the opportunity to revisit and revise local policies if appropriate, including the Public Health approach to addressing VAWG, and to identify and seek to influence any areas of national policy that need revising.

· To review existing partnership arrangements in the city to make sure there is a clear focus and tangible action on addressing VAWG, including its wider impact on the families and children of victims and abusers.

· To ensure there is strong and visible leadership on VAWG for the city to drive through the recommendations identified by the Commission, and to be the champion for change.

As part of the work of the Commission a full engagement programme will be launched, inviting local organisations who work with female victims of violence and residents across the city to hear more about their experiences and their recommendations about what more needs to be done.

Gatherings storm gathers momentum

Should have used the self deleting WhatsApp? – Owl

Email proves Downing Street staff held drinks party at height of lockdown

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports on the email providing the first evidence of a party on May 20, 2020 in the Number 10 garden

Paul BrandUK Editor www.itv.com 

Downing Street staff were invited to a drinks party in the Number 10 garden during the height of nationwide lockdown to “make the most of the lovely weather”.

An email shared exclusively with ITV News provides the first evidence of a party on May 20, 2020, when the rest of the country was banned from meeting more than one other person outdoors.

The email was sent by the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to over a hundred employees in Number 10, including the Prime Minister’s advisors, speechwriters and door staff.

In it, Mr Reynolds – a senior No 10 civil servant who has run Boris Johnson‘s private office since October 2019 – says:

“Hi all,

“After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening.

“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”

ITV News understands around 40 staff gathered in the garden that evening, eating picnic food and drinking. Crucially, they included the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson.

The email invitation sent by Martin Reynolds, seen by ITV News Credit: ITV News

The May 20 party was first alluded to in a blog by the Prime Minister’s former advisor Dominic Cummings on Friday.

​The email follows allegations about staff gathering in the garden on a separate occasion on May 15, with a photograph emerging of Mr Johnson and his wife sitting with No 10 staff including Martin Reynolds on the terrace with a bottle of wine and cheese.

Downing Street has previously insisted that the photograph showed a work meeting. But the email about the drinks party on May 20 makes it clear that this was a social gathering, which is far harder to explain away.

Less than an hour before the drinks, the then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had reminded the rest of England at the daily press conference that they must only meet in pairs outdoors.


On May 20, 2020, then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the public at a press briefing:

“You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart”


Guidance allowing the ‘rule of six’ outdoors wasn’t brought in until June 2020 and large gatherings remained banned.

The latest revelations have led to fresh calls for the Prime Minister to be questioned as part of the internal inquiry into a series of parties in Downing Street, launched after ITV News aired footage of Number 10 staff laughing and joking about an event on December 19 2020.

In that video, the Prime Minister’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton suggested that there had been “no social distancing” at the event, which staff jokingly referred to as a “business meeting” with “cheese and wine”.

ITV News later revealed that the Prime Minister’s Head of Communications, Jack Doyle, handed out awards to staff at the party and made a speech.

Since then, there have been allegations of multiple other parties.

The cabinet office inquiry into the allegations is currently being carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who took over from the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case due to allegations that he knew of at least one party himself.

ITV News understands that the drinks party on May 20 will form part of the ongoing investigations, with the inquiry due to report back this month.

When Mr Johnson was asked on Monday if he and his wife attended the party on May 20, he replied: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.”

Downing Street told ITV News they would not comment on the story due to the Sue Gray inquiry. 

Funding gap could hit East Devon’s street cleaning

Street cleaning services in East Devon could be hit as the council attempts to balance its budget for the forthcoming financial year.   

Joe Ives, Local Democracy Reporter www.exmouthjournal.co.uk 

Officers at Streetscene, which cleans and maintains public spaces in East Devon including parks, public gardens and council-owned toilets, say an additional £285,000 is needed to meet the demand for its services. 

But in a draft budget brought forward to the council’s cabinet it was suggested that the costs could be simply unaffordable. 

The extra money for Streetscene would be spent on 11 more employees. Officers at Streetscene say that demand has ‘increased greatly’ over the past few years ‘with a notable uplift in visitors and tourism, and an exponential rise in housing developments across the district such as Cranbrook, meaning more residents and use of our towns, parks, beaches, and public spaces’. 

The officers say that there has been no additional investment in staffing for a decade because of Government austerity measures, adding ‘at the same time demand, population and strain on our services has increased’. 

Last year demand for seafront cleaning alone rose by 29 per cent. 

Councillor Geoff Jung (Independent East Devon Alliance, Democratic Alliance Group, Woodbury and Lympstone), portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, said: “We are only going to be able to supply the minimum service that people expect. If we could have had some more funds we could have looked at improving Streetscene and providing an improved service to our residents and it’s a great shame that all we’re doing at the moment is holding our head above the waterline.” 

Councillor Steve Gazzard (Liberal Democrats, Democratic Alliance Group, Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh) wanted people to be made aware if Streetscene services are on course to deteriorate. He said: “We really must let the residents know because it’s going to be the councillors who are elected who are going to take it in the neck if things get worse.” 

East Devon’s cabinet is expected to discuss the financial issues facing Streetscene in greater depth.  

The 2022/3 financial year begins in April, and the budget will be finalised by the council over the coming months. It is already expected that car parking fees at 19 ‘prime’ locations will rise from £1 to £1.50 and that residents will have to pay an additional £5 a year for East Devon’s element of council tax for a band D property. 

Second Homes “Westminster Hall” debate Thursday 6 Jan

Selaine Saxby MP North Devon speaks passionately in debate organised by Tim Farron MP.

Minister of State Christopher Pincher promises to close a loophole “as soon as we can” and to introduce a tourist accommodation registration scheme “so that we can build an understanding of the evidence and the issues that second homes present“. Ah the evidence base!

“Westminster Hall” debates (actually conducted in the Grand Committee Room next to it) started in 1999. In contrast to the two main chambers, the room is laid out in a horseshoe shape. These debates give MPs an opportunity to raise local or national issues and receive a response from a government minister. The motions are general, neutrally worded, e.g. “That this House has considered the matter of second homes and holiday lets in rural communities.” There is no vote for or against.

There is a formal batting order, which makes it relatively easy to skim the transcript (see here) for the salient points:

  • the MP whose debate it is to make an opening speech
  • backbenchers
  • frontbencher from the third largest party to sum up
  • frontbencher from the official Opposition to sum up
  • the minister to respond
  • the MP whose debate it is to sum up (if there’s time)

In this case, the debate was opened by Tim Farron Lib Dem (Environment and Rural affairs plus Housing, Communities and Local Government).

Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon made a strong case for the impact not just in her constituency but in Devon and Cornwall. (See text below).

Many constructive points were made on what could be done by the formal opposition shadow speakers: Patricia Gibson SNP as “third party” speaker (who mentioned the problems of Cornwall as well as Scotland) and Matthew Pennycock Labour shadow Housing, Communities and Local Government who referred back to Selaine Saxby. E.g. Devolve more  powers to local councils, increased supplement on second home stamp  duties and the  need for planning permission for change of use. (Easy to find at the end of the full transcript.)

The Ministerial reply from Minister of State Christopher Pincher was rather predictable, placing emphasis on the need to build, build, build and on the “Help to Buy” and “First Homes” schemes.

He stressed that the government has committed to close the loophole in the business rate system: “we will introduce our proposals to close that loophole as soon as we can”.

He also mentioned reforming the planning system and introducing a new infrastructure levy as in some way helping.

He went on: “I can confirm that we propose to consult on the introduction of a tourist accommodation registration scheme in England so that we can build an understanding of the evidence and the issues that second homes present, particularly when driven by the rise of online platforms such as Airbnb. We will launch that consultation later this year and will begin the process of a call for evidence in the coming weeks”. (aka: “kicking into the long grass”).

As Tim Farron replied: “I welcome the review that the Minister talked about. That is all good—but it is all we got. I was not overwhelmed by a tidal wave of urgency—in fact, quite the opposite. In the seconds that I have left, I want to say to the Minister that inaction is action. It is action on behalf of those who own multiple homes against our communities. I want to see an awful lot more than we have seen today. By the time a part of what we proposed is looked at in a review, which will take years because they always do, there will be another 32% [rise in one year in the number of holiday lets in one Lakeland District] and then another 32%, and the communities at risk of dying that I talked about earlier will be actually dead. We need urgency right now, so I ask for further meetings immediately. The Minister talks about the planning rules, but how about letting national parks pilot the differential in planning use categories? That, at least, would be a start, to demonstrate that it could be possible. I am disappointed by the lack of urgency, but I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Extract from Opening Speech

….I have been calling for the Government to take action from the very beginning, so I confess to being frustrated and angry that Ministers have yet to do anything meaningful to tackle the problem. As a result, many of us living in rural communities feel ignored, abandoned and taken for granted by the Government, and we stand together today as rural communities to declare that we will not be taken for granted one moment longer.

In South Lakeland, the average house price is 11 times greater than the average household income. Families on low or middle incomes, and even those on reasonably good incomes, are completely excluded from the possibility of buying a home. Although the local council in South Lakeland has enabled the building of more than 1,000 new social rented properties, there are still more than 3,000 families languishing on the housing waiting list. Even before the pandemic, at least one in seven houses in my constituency was a second home—a bolthole or an investment for people whose main home is somewhere else.

In many towns and villages, such as Coniston, Hawkshead, Dent, Chapel Stile and Grasmere, the majority of properties are now empty for most of the year. Across the Yorkshire Dales, much of which is in Cumbria and in my constituency, more than a quarter of the housing stock in the national park is not lived in. In Elterwater in Langdale, 85% of the properties are second homes. Without a large enough permanent population, villages just die. The school loses numbers and then closes. The bus service loses passengers, so it gets cut. The pub loses its trade, the post office loses customers and the church loses its congregation, so they close too. Those who are left behind are isolated and often impoverished in communities whose life has effectively come to an end……

…During the pandemic, I have spoken to many local estate agents across our county. Around 80% of all house sales during the past two years have been in the second home market. Those who have the money to do so are rethinking their priorities, investing in the rising value of property and seeking a piece of the countryside to call their own, and we can kind of understand that. I do not wish to demonise anybody with a second home, or to say that there are no circumstances in which it is okay to have one, but let me be blunt: surely, someone’s right to have a second home must not trump a struggling family’s right to have any home, yet in reality, apparently it does. Every day that the Government fail to act is another day that they are backing those who are lucky enough to have multiple homes against those who cannot find any home in the lakes, the dales or any other rural community in our country…..

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 1:59 pm, 6th January 2022

Speech in full:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank Tim Farron for securing this important debate.

I feel like a stuck record for raising the issue of second homes in North Devon again. My constituency is not just rural but coastal, and many of the issues described by hon. Members are exacerbated many times over on the coast, where we have only the sea to draw on for extra residents or houses. Therefore, down the south-west peninsula, in both Devon and Cornwall, MPs have been highlighting this issue ever since I was elected. Although the pandemic has seen a perfect storm, resulting in a rush to purchase second homes in beautiful locations or to convert properties to short-term holiday lets, it is not a new problem. I was contacted during the 2019 general election campaign by the Croyde Area Residents Association, which was concerned even then that second homes accounted for 64% of properties in the stunning surf village of Croyde.

The issues around second homes are well documented with regards to a shortage of affordable properties for local residents. In the past year of the pandemic, we have also seen many evictions of local residents who have rented their homes for many years, so that owners can convert their properties to short-term holiday lets. North Devon has always welcomed second-homers and those visiting our beautiful coast in short-term holiday lets, but what we are now seeing is unsustainable, and we need action to address the problem before we become a complete ghost coast.

Like me, North Devon Council has written numerous times to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and now to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, on this matter. In its most recent letter, North Devon Council detailed the following concerns about the critical situation facing our housing market. Average house prices in North Devon have increased by 22.5% in the past 12 months—the second-highest rise in England. There has been a 67% reduction in listings for permanent rental properties in 12 months—the highest reduction in the south-west, and the fourth highest nationally. There has been a 33% increase in the number of people on the housing register in 12 months, a 21% increase in the number of dwellings registered for business rates for holiday lets over 24 months, and a 7.5% increase in the number of second homes in just 12 months.

The number of properties advertised for permanent rental via Rightmove, compared with those available for Airbnb, really highlights the issue. Many of us had hoped the problem would have passed by the end of the summer, but at the start of November in Barnstaple, the main town in my constituency, there were 126 Airbnbs and two private rentals. In Ilfracombe, there were over 300 Airbnbs and three private rentals. In Lynton, there were 104 Airbnbs. In Woolacombe, there were 196 Airbnbs but not a single private rental on Rightmove.

The council’s housing staff are now dealing with a huge increase in the number of people presenting as homeless, and they have also seen a major shift in the type of people asking for assistance. These people are homeless simply because they are forced to present as such, as they have been evicted by landlords who wish to convert their properties from private residential use to short-term holiday use. Given the numbers I have mentioned, it is impossible for them to find alternative accommodation on the open market. I want to take this opportunity to thank the housing team at North Devon Council for their tireless work in trying to help families who find themselves in an incredibly difficult and stressful situation through no fault of their own.

Although tourism is a major part of the North Devon economy, the lack of housing available for permanent residential use is starting to have a major impact on the lives of far too many residents, as well as on local businesses and public services such as health and education, which are struggling to recruit because of the lack of housing and which are also suffering from existing staff leaving the area because of eviction and the lack of affordable housing. Major employers in North Devon have indicated that the lack of available housing is now being considered when deciding whether to invest in the area. Local schools and colleges, and the health service, cannot recruit quality staff because of the lack of housing. Even our much-loved North Devon District Hospital is struggling to find accommodation for just the handful of new students that started there this year.

The recent shift from permanent residential to holiday use, and the substantial increase in house prices, means not only that a permanent home is out of reach for many people living and working in the area. Public attitudes to new house building have also changed. Virtually every housing scheme in North Devon, particularly the larger ones, is meeting substantial opposition from the community, with many objectors citing fears that the properties will become second homes or holiday lets, and that they will invariably be unaffordable for local residents. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that viability challenges raised by developers mean that on average only around 20% of new homes built in North Devon are affordable, by any definition.

A proliferation of short-term holiday lets in an area not only changes the character of a neighbourhood but can also increase antisocial behaviour and noise nuisance, primarily because there is so little regulation of short-term holiday lets. We are already starting to see that, with an increase in the number of complaints received by the council relating to noise, antisocial behaviour, parties, hot tubs and so on.

I recognise that any intervention in the housing market has a huge risk of unintended consequences and potential increases in prices in some sectors, but I very much hope that some steps can be taken to level the playing field between the short-term and the long-term rental markets through the various current tax inequalities, to ensure that the short-term holiday let market is better regulated and that a change of use is required to convert properties from primary residence to holiday lets. It seems bizarre that some of the holiday lets in my constituency have to have a change of use to become a long-term rental, but the situation is not the same the other way round. Restrictions of just 10 months’ occupancy are imposed by local councils for good reasons at the time they were imposed, but those restrictions are now not being reversed. Support is needed for small district councils to enable them to confidently take those steps, if they are able.

We also need to take steps to bring back into occupation derelict properties that have been left empty for months or years. Councils have powers, but the processes are slow and expensive, and the proximity of my own home to derelict houses suggests such powers are not being readily acted upon.

Most people dream of owning their own home, and I fully support the Government’s ambition to help people to achieve that dream. To do that in places such as North Devon, we need to find a solution for increasing the supply of affordable housing and we need to review the guidance and tests in place to assess the viability of developments, to ensure that the level of affordable housing provided is not affected by issues such as an unreasonably high valuation placed on the land.

Our councils need more control and flexibility in access to funding to build affordable homes and to protect them for occupancy by local residents, so that they are available to future generations. New homes need to be available to those who want to live in these rural and coastal constituencies. There are innovative schemes such as rent to buy from companies such as Rentplus, community land trusts for small rural communities need to be more accessible to small planning authorities, and more needs to be done so that our local plans really do reflect the needs of our local communities.

Like many of my constituents, I would like the lights over Christmas to be on in my neighbours’ houses, but far too many closes like mine are deserted through the winter. I very much hope that the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has some plans, blue sky or otherwise. During the pandemic, this Government showed that we can act quickly when we need to. The time is now to address the imbalances in the housing market, before the lights go out for good and the whole of the North Devon coast becomes a winter ghost town.