Perfect storm has created a housing crisis that needs fixing

North Devon Gazette

We aren't out of the woods on Covid yet as the new Omicron strain has proved but we are now facing another crisis in Devon - housing.

House price rises in some parts of Devon are among the highest in the country.

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.

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

Now housing is not a county council responsibility but a district council function but this problem is so serious it needs concerted action.

The county council's new strategic plan commits us to "doing whatever we can to make it easier for key workers and people on low incomes to find affordable homes".

This week both the county council and Team Devon – which is a partnership of county, district, town and parish councils – are discussing the issue.

County councillors are being asked to back a new strategic housing Task Force in partnership with the districts.

We will also consider offering accommodation to key workers to attract them to work for us and lobbying MPs to tighten up tax loopholes on holiday rental homes.

The problem is so serious that we need a united, cross-party, cross-council approach so we have a more powerful voice in lobbying the Government for the changes that need to be made.

Team Devon, which I chair, has already seen some very worrying statistics.

The Office of National Statistics says 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 and East Devon on 14.8 per cent.

We also had figures showing Air B&B offering 253 rentals in Exmouth compared with just four residential lettings. In Ilfracombe the figures were 326 compared to four.

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.

We also heard from one successful Devon business that 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.

Some schools are finding it difficult to recruit staff because they can't find accommodation.

Now some of the actions needed will require Government to act but there’s a lot councils can do.

For example, the county is considering the potential to convert some offices or other properties into housing for key workers and offering grants towards deposits for house purchase.

Team Devon already has a bid for Government cash to help promote small-scale housing projects providing local homes for local people under Community Land Trusts.

Councils can also learn from best practice in other areas and share ideas on how housing and planning policies could be adapted to allocate some affordable homes 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.