Affordable homes is council priority - David Worden

North Devon Gazette

Recently North Devon councillors and senior officers took part in an important strategy workshop with the Local Government Association in order to assess the council’s priorities going forward.

The top issues identified included the lack of affordable and social housing and the need to protect the environment by taking action to reduce carbon emissions. In a multiple choice poll the priority projects were to aim to facilitate the construction of more affordable houses and plant 25,000 trees by 2025.

Most readers will be aware of the growing housing challenges both in Northern Devon and elsewhere in the country. House prices have rocketed in our area and finding somewhere to rent at a reasonable price has become extremely difficult. The whole housing market has become out of balance with many properties being used to rent out for the holiday market rather than providing long term lets. Consequently many families are presenting themselves to North Devon Council’s housing department each week having either already become or are in danger of becoming homeless.

In order to understand the extent of the challenge NDC has carried out an informal housing panel meeting where stakeholders were given the opportunity to tell councillors of their experience of the housing difficulties and associated social and economic concerns which need to be addressed.

The aim of the enquiry was first of all to identify the extent of the problem. This will now be followed up with decisions surrounding the most appropriate and cost-effective additional actions for the Council to pursue in the short, medium and long term in order to reduce the impacts of the changing housing scene.

Participants at the initial meeting were also asked to suggest areas where asks can be made of the Government to change the current policy or provide financial assistance.

In addition to NDC’s housing officers, Jeremy Mann and Sarah Bentley, those participating included Mark Johnson and Roy Tomlinson from the Torridge and North Devon Housing Crisis pressure group who presented their Manifesto for Change. Claire Fisher spoke on behalf of Encompass South West (a local charity group that works with the homeless) and outlined some of the innovative projects they are working on and Mark Reed from the Salvation Army informed members of the human cost to the most vulnerable of lack of adequate housing. Collyers Estate Agents gave their view of the housing market and related that they are encouraging longer tenancies with long term local renters. Martyn Gimber from North Devon Homes talked of his vision to increase the number of social houses that they are building but this depends very much on the availability of land

and funding. In addition local business leaders explained their recruitment problem because of the difficulty in finding reasonably priced accommodation for key workers in the area. Finally two local building firms, Chichester and Pearce, explained why they needed a close working relationship with the council in order to speed up the planning process so that more homes can be built.

The evidence gathered will now be discussed and recommendations and actions will be debated by council members. The manifesto put forward by the Torridge and North Devon Housing Crisis group will be examined at the November Policy and Resources Committee meeting and a further meeting involving those who those who contributed to the housing panel will be arranged for about a month’s time.

Finally there has been some really good news for Ilfracombe. I am delighted that NDC has been allocated £500,000 from the Brownfield Land Release Fund. The funds come from the separate allocation set aside for self build schemes. NDC put forward a bid which will enable the land at Bicclescombe Nursery, Ilfracombe to come forward as self build plots. Self build is one of many different initiatives which are being explored in order to meet the local housing needs.