Plans to address Torridge housing crisis revealed

North Devon Gazette

Torridge Councillors met this week to debate the initial findings of a review they initiated into housing provision in the district, and to agree actions to address the emerging housing crisis.Â

The review identified significant short comings in the way the housing market has continued to shift in Torridge with a lack of affordable units being built out on many developments and the mix of homes largely failing to support the retention of younger people and families.Â

Having declared a climate emergency councillors were also keen to sharpen the focus on bringing higher environmental standards to housing than that currently being achieved.Â

The report acknowledged some of the many strands of work already initiated by the council to try and tackle these problems.Â

These include the possible use of modular housing units, evaluating options to reduce the number of empty homes, and helping to bring forward schemes in partnership with local social housing providers.Â

The report went on to highlight some of the significant factors affecting affordability in the area, which has a low average wage economy, but has suffered an accelerated rise in the cost of accommodation in recent years.Â

One of the starkest statistics shown was that due to the desirability of the area there has been the equivalent of a 5-year increase in house prices in just the last 12 months alone in Torridge, with prices rising by almost 20%.Â

There is an acknowledgement that this figure is in part likely to have been impacted by the demand for second homes or business and holiday let use, but that measures to deal with these particular aspects would require legislative changes beyond the powers of local councils.Â

There was unanimous support to the proposal for a two phased approach to tackling the crisis. The initial phase will include employing trained facilitators to work at a more detailed level with developers to find solutions to the viability arguments that have historically suppressed the delivery of affordable housing below the 30% level wanted by councillors.Â

The council will also undertake an assessment of all the land in its ownership to produce a list of viable and deliverable sites. Following on from this the authority plans to quickly finalise a Housing Delivery Plan including partnerships, financial commitments and time frames.Â

Phase two of the plan will consider the mechanism for delivery. The most attractive and less risky approach is likely to involve entering into delivery partnerships or joint ventures with a trusted local partner or range of partners.Â

The recent delivery of 52 affordable units in Bideford in partnership with Westward Housing is a good example of how such partnerships have already delivered tangible results. However, the recommendations adopted also allow scope for the consideration of other options such as the establishment of an arm’s length body, community land trusts and exploring new funding avenues such as from One Public Estate and Homes England.Â

Councillor Clarke, Torridge District Council lead member for Homelessness and Housing Need said: “Affordable housing remains one of the key priorities not just for Torridge but most Councils in the Country and particularly in the South West, where prices have risen so sharply in recent years. While nearly 1,200 new homes have been built over the last five years only 160 of these or 13% were affordable, which is not nearly enough. I welcome the initiative to bring an additional layer of expertise to working with developers to help improve on this figure.Â

“As a District Council we have been extremely limited by legislation as to what action we could take but have worked hard with partners to build out affordable units where opportunities were available. Elsewhere we have worked on schemes to encourage social landlords to increase supply and promoted projects such as enabling self builds. Our officers also work daily with landlords and tenants to keep people in their homes and rescue tenancies. I hope that these new initiatives can be developed and implemented quickly to help people in the district in what appears to be a growing UK crisis.”Â