Affordable housing is a huge issue in an area like this one, with high house prices relative to wages, and I am hopeful that the new Housing White Paper, introduced by the government this month, will help to ensure more people can own their own home or find a reasonable rent. You can view the White Paper here.
Sadly, as things stand currently, only a quarter of thirty year olds will own their own home by 2020, which is a depressing statistic as more than half of their parents' generation were able to do so at the same age. This figure is likely to be even lower in the constituency, and in the South Hams in particular, where the ratio of median house price to median income is over 10.
Hopefully, the White Paper will address this, as it covers improving the system for planning for the necessary house supply, increasing the pace at which new dwellings can be built and refining the structure of the housing market, including for homes to rent. However, new homes need to be constructed in the right places.
Central to this is guaranteeing that local communities have genuine input in where developments go and checking that plans are based on an honest assessment of the accommodation demand in a specific location.
Land banking has long been an impediment to development and the White Paper plans for greater transparency over who owns, controls or has an interest in land, to try and tackle this. Other encouraging inclusions are the greater responsibility for the government to release its own surplus land to be built on and a stronger presumption that suitable brownfield sites can be developed for housing. Additionally, encouragement for a more diversified house building market, with initiatives to support smaller and medium sized builders to grow, alongside custom and self-build properties are welcome.
Alongside simply constructing residences, the White Paper also suggests a series of measures that would take effect more expediently. Such as more support for regions like South Devon which are troubled by high levels of second home ownership and more of a focus on how we can bring empty properties back in to use.
A consultation is now open on the Housing White Paper and I would encourage people to submit their views on how to fix our housing market. The consultation is open until the 2nd of May 2017 and you can find out how to contribute via the following link.
We have already received some positive news on the topic of housing as, in the 2016 Budget, the Government announced it would provide funding for communities affected by second home ownership. Often, second homes stand empty for a large proportion of the time which can affect the demographics of an area and distort local housing markets. The South Hams has just under 4,000 second homes which makes up over 9% of the total households, therefore the impact of second homes is very acute. I worked closely with South Hams District Councillors and we were therefore delighted that the council will receive a £1.8m boost for affected communities. You can read more about this here.
This adds to the promise in the Autumn Statement to put an end to unfair upfront letting fees for tenants. Many in the constituency live in private rental accommodation and this will make a difference to those who have struggled to afford these escalating hidden costs. Especially those having to move at regular intervals face the recurring nightmare of affording high upfront costs before receiving back an existing deposit. You can read more about this here.