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Shelter slams South Hams 'extortionate' housing

Wednesday, September 29th, 2021 8:48am

By Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

Under the bridge (courtesy: LDRS)

Due to long-term underinvestment

A national housing charity says the housing crisis, declared last week in South Hams, is a result of “extortionate” rents and long-term underinvestment in homes. 

South Hams councillors announced a housing crisis because of lack of rented accommodation available for longer than six months, an excessive rise in house prices due to second-homeowners, the conversion of properties to Airbnb's and people moving into the district since the pandemic.

Leader of the district council, Cllr Judy Pearce (Cons, Salcombe and Thurlestone) said the needs of local communities should be considered. “We are all very aware of the problems that have been created this summer, because so many properties have been turned into Airbnb’s,” she said.

“We have every sympathy with people wanting to come and visit the South Hams, but we have to look at the sustainable future of our district and if people can't afford to live here for work, then the system is going to break down.

"We can't have innumerable tourists here if there is nobody here to service the businesses that they are using.”

But director of policy and campaigns at housing and homeless charity Shelter, Osama Bhutta, believes the problem has been growing over many years.   “In coastal areas and across the country, the housing emergency is taking a terrible toll,” said Mr Bhutta. 

“We have people being pushed out of their local areas because of soaring house prices, extortionate private rents and landlords choosing to turn their properties into more lucrative short-term lets.

“At the root of this crisis is decades of failure to invest in the good quality social homes our local communities so obviously need. Well-built homes which people can afford to live in shouldn’t be a rarity, they should be the norm. 

“If the new housing secretary wants to really level up the country, he must build a new generation of social homes."

South Hams says it has a five-year supply of land for housing, an adopted joint local plan with Plymouth and West Devon and an adopted housing strategy but still has too few properties for local people and those people wanting to work in the district.

South Hams is proposing plans which it hopes will alleviate the housing crisis.  Priorities include;

  • Lobbying central government, through MPs and the Local Government Association, to allow a council tax charge on housing plots with planning permission if they have not been built after a specified period of time. 
  • Lobbying government to better regulate holiday property to ensure it complies with local planning policies and taxes. The aim is to prevent too many local homes being converted to holiday accommodation.
  • An immediate review of holiday letting to ensure owners are paying the correct amount for the removal of waste and recycling. SHDC says businesses should not be on the normal domestic recycling and waste collection.
  • The council will work closely with registered providers on many housing projects to ensure the best use of those properties, such as to encourage tenants to downsize where possible and make larger properties available for larger households.
  • In addition, the district council is proposing to use some of the affordable housing revenue to increase payments made to those tenants downsizing to make the move more attractable and affordable.
  • One of the most significant tools being considered is the use of Section 106 affordable housing contributions to help fund developments anywhere in the District where the terms of the Section 106 agreements will allow.
  • The Council also wants low carbon modular housing such as ZEDpods and to actively seek opportunities to invest in council-owned social housing with highly sustainable specification.
  • SHDC also plans to lobby government to allow local councils to be able to charge double the council tax rates on second or holiday homes. 
  • Section 106 agreements are registered against the property title and would therefore be easily seen by any potential buyer in the future, rather than other planning conditions which tend to get lost or overlooked when a house is resold. 

The average salary in South Hams in 2020 was around £30,000 but many houses in towns such as Salcombe sell for more than £750,000 - 25 times the local average salary. 

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