North Devon Housing

COLUMN: Taking on the North Devon housing crisis

David Worden

Many readers will know of the rapid rising costs of properties and rents in the South West, which is causing a housing crisis.

This is such an important issue that it needs members of all political parties to work together to come up with ways to help. If you own your own home, it is sometimes easy to forget the misery that can be caused to a family when their housing is insecure or taken away from them.

North Devon Council often deals with the aftermath of housing issues. When someone has been made homeless or is threatened with homelessness, it is the council that attempts to assist them, either with advice or with assistance to secure alternative accommodation. It also provides temporary accommodation where necessary.

The Government’s latest homelessness statistics make interesting, yet sobering reading. In the nine months up to December last year, NDC dealt with 868 cases of homelessness, 80 of which were as a result of a section 21 notice being served.

These are the so called “no fault” evictions, where an eviction can be prompted simply by a landlord deciding to remove the tenant. The reason for serving these notices are obviously personal to the landlord but many s21 notices were undoubtedly served, so that the property could be either sold or used as short-term holiday lets.

In our coastal and rural areas, the financial gain from a holiday let can be much higher than a permanent letting. However, there is a human cost to that approach. The individuals that are evicted are highly unlikely to be able to find accommodation elsewhere in North Devon, as there is very little on the market and rents have risen so dramatically. There is also a cost to the local community, as too many holiday lets in an area can change the character of a community and cause anti-social behaviour issues.

A check on particular online sites dealing with permanent and holiday lets revealed that in Ilfracombe there was one permanent let being advertised, yet over 300 holiday lets. In Barnstaple, the same exercise showed just three permanent lets and 112 holiday lets and it is a similar picture for most of North Devon.

During approximately the last two years, over 467 residential dwellings in North Devon have moved from the permanent market to either second homes or holiday lets. That is the equivalent of losing a large housing estate.

Tourism is an important part of the economy of North Devon but so is manufacturing, health, education and public services and unfortunately, the impact on the housing market is now being felt in other parts of our economy. Businesses, schools, health services all report difficulties in recruiting staff being caused by the lack of affordable housing.

So what can be done?  I don’t have all of the answers and I certainly don’t want to demonise people that let their properties for holiday lets. What I do know is that the issue needs a co-ordinated effort by government and local authorities to tackle it properly.

There are a whole range of interventions that might help and I listened with interest to the debate in Parliament led by Selaine Saxby MP when she highlighted many of those interventions. They range from removing the current tax advantages that exist for holiday lets, through to re-purposing upper floors above shops and increasing the supply of affordable dwellings. What is clear is that the solution is not just to build more homes because many local people cannot afford them.

NDC has recently encouraged landlords to contact the council, so that it can assist them with letting their properties on a permanent basis. I repeat that call and would urge existing landlords and people considering becoming landlords to come forward and help. I would also urge any owners of short-term holiday let properties to consider letting their property permanently in order to assist with the current situation and to help make communities more sustainable.