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.


Though we have a national housing shortage, it is especially so for this area as we have such a disparity between the level of wages and the cost of housing which is also driven up by the high level of second home ownership. I was pleased to facilitate a meeting during the last parliament between a group of young people from the area and the Housing Minister as part of discussions I regularly hold with colleagues to put forward the especial difficulties facing our coastal and rural communities


Affordable Housing

I do appreciate concerns about the lack of social and affordable housing in this area. Though we have a national housing shortage, I believe it is especially so for this area as we have such a disparity between the level of wages and the cost of housing which is also driven up by the high level of second home ownership.

I was pleased to facilitate a meeting during the last Parliament between a group of young people from the area and the Housing Minister as part of discussions I regularly hold with colleagues to put forward the especial difficulties facing our coastal and rural communities. I know that there is always a tension between the wish of many people to halt development and those who are desperately in need of local homes.

I wanted to flag up the role of Help to Buy South West in securing people in the constituency an affordable home, Help to Buy South West is a 'not for profit' Government appointed Help to Buy Agent and the first port of call for anyone who cannot afford to buy a home at open market rates.

This is the agency which assesses eligibility for any of the following government schemes:

Help to Buy Equity Loan

This scheme offers a 10%, 15% or 20% equity loan funded by the Government through the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) on new build properties. With a Help to Buy equity loan, the government lends up to 20% of the cost of a new-build home, so you need a 5% deposit and a 75% mortgage to make up the rest. Help to Buy equity loans are open to both first-time buyers and home movers on new-build homes worth up to £600,000. Buyers are not able to sub-let their home.

Help to Buy Shared Ownership

Homes are available through different housing associations with an offer to buy shares worth between 25% and 75% of the property's market value and payment of a subsidised rent on the remaining share. Buyers are able to raise a mortgage to purchase their share or a deposit or equity from the sale of a property towards purchasing their share. Resale properties originally sold as Shared Ownership are also available from existing owners.

Rent to HomeBuy

This option offers newly built homes to rent for a period of time with the option to buy a share of the property at the end of the rental period. Homes are available through a range of housing associations on assured shorthold tenancies with an affordable rent of 80% of market rents. The rent is payable for a pre-defined and limited period, after which time there is an expectation that buyers will purchase the property on the terms of Shared Ownership after your initial rental period. As the rent is reduced, it provides the opportunity to save for a deposit towards buying a share in the home, making it more affordable to access a mortgage.

I would strongly recommend anyone looking for an affordable property in the area sign up with Help to Buy South West immediately as when new properties are put up on their site, they often go quickly.

You can view the Help to Buy South West FAQs page which will inform you of the criteria you need to meet for the different schemes.

The contact details are as follows:

Email: info@helptobuysw.org.uk

Telephone: 0300 100 0021

Website: https://www.helptobuysw.org.uk/

Address: Help to Buy South West, Templar House, Collett Way, Newton Abbot, TQ12 4PH


HOLNE AND SCORITON AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROJECT

This is an article written by Gill Gray that describes the journey from conception to completion of the affordable housing project at Holne. The Houses are now completed and occupied!

Any local community which has been involved with an affordable housing project will know just how long a process it can be. With the demise of local authority housing and the escalating prices of open market housing and the cost of private rented properties, Holne and Scoriton set upon their quest to provide affordable housing for local people – this was thirteen years ago.

It has been a somewhat tortuous journey – all those involved were volunteers, took no recompense for their work and spent hours of their time ensuring that they knew the procedures and the hoops that had to be jumped through to achieve their goal. They worked tirelessly with the Dartmoor National Park, South Hams District Council and the Devon Rural Housing Enabler. Countless meetings were held, numerous visits to other affordable housing projects, seminars etc were attended. Contact was made with all members of the DNPA, district and county councils, the NFU and other relevant organisations and support was forthcoming from everyone.

Once the first housing survey had been undertaken and the results proved there indeed was a need, the next task was to find a site – which was easier said than done! All landowners with land in the village envelopes in the two parishes were contacted but only one was willing to consider selling their land for local housing. Both communities were being kept advised of all developments by way of public meetings, regular items on the parish councils' agendas and articles in the local community magazines but once the search for a site commenced, those in the communities who were opposed to the whole idea of affordable housing, voiced their views, some very strongly.

Thus there was a very difficult period when drop in sessions were being held and culminating in the planning application being submitted and approved (with a Section 106 agreement setting out who should be eligible to occupy the houses), when it was very obvious there were some within the two communities who would never accept there was a need for houses for local people – many of these did not seem to comprehend that in rural areas, the sense of belonging to a community one had grown up in, was important .

The houses are now nearing completion with occupation likely in June – seven two and three bedroom units . One would think that after all the hard work, the frustrations and the problems along the way, that had beset the project, that all would now be well - but not quite. Maybe the housing group and parish councils missed something , because it became apparent that in spite of the evidences in the housing need survey, the contents of the Section 106 agreement and the belief that the houses would be occupied by those people that the housing group had been working for, for all those years, that the allocation of the houses were likely to go to people (however needy), who lived outside the two parishes, simply because those in Band E were to be excluded – guidance which had come down from Central Government.

So three months before the houses were to be occupied, when ordinarily the work of the community group would have finished, the two parishes councils set about to lobby and so influence the powers that be to change the decision on Band E applicants. With the support of the district councillor Cllr Peter Smerdon and the MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, sense prevailed and those in Bands E (those who do not have a housing need as determined in Bands A to D) will now be considered. Future community groups promoting affordable housing projects in their parishes should be aware of this.


I am often contacted by people who are confused by the planning system and the difference between Parish Plans and Neighbourhood Plans.

The following information was provided by the House of Commons Library:

In summary, parish plans are normally informal documents that describe actions that the parish council can take at a local level or they aim to focus local opinion to feed into decisions being taken at a higher level. The advantage is that they are quick to produce and there are no formal procedural requirements so they are also relatively cheap to make. The big disadvantage is that they carry no formal weight in the planning process – a local authority does not have to give a parish plan any formal weight in its decision taking on a planning application. In contrast, neighbourhood plans are formal planning documents which do carry official weight, but they are often expensive to produce (although some financial incentives are available), there are a series of procedural steps to follow including public consultation, official examination and a referendum and they can take around two years to make.

Parish plans

The idea behind a parish plan is for parish councils and local communities to influence and shape the future development of their communities. These plans can include any social, environmental or economic issues and are based on a process of community consultation. On their own, they hold no legal authority, but can be used by local councils to inform their own local plans. Parish plans generally combine two things. They can describe actions that they are able to take at a modest local level – for example maintenance arrangements for a playground or uses for a village hall. In addition, they can act as a focus for local opinion to feed into decisions that are taken at a higher level. For example, a parish plan might express a desire for more affordable accommodation.

One way in which parish plans can carry more weight at an official level is for them to be adopted as a "supplementary planning document" (SPDs) to the local plan by the local council. For a parish plan to be adopted as an SPD it must be demonstrated that it is conformity with the local council's local plan. Sometimes however, the intention of the parish plan is to challenge the local plan and so this is not always an option.[1]

Neighbourhood planning

A neighbourhood plan is another type of plan that Parish councils can make, but it is one that carries official formal weight with the local authority when it takes planning decisions. The Localism Act 2011 placed a legal duty on local planning authorities to support and advise parish councils and neighbourhood forums that want to do neighbourhood planning. Neighbourhood forums and parish councils can use the neighbourhood planning powers to establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood. These are called "neighbourhood development plans." Neighbourhood planning can also be used to permit development in an area without the need for planning applications. These are called "neighbourhood development orders." A Neighbourhood Development Order can grant planning permission for major development schemes, new houses, a new shop or pub, or permit extensions of a certain size or scale across the whole neighbourhood area.

Again, however, the neighbourhood plan must be in general conformity with the local plan for the area, particularly in relation to the "strategic priorities" which have to be set out in the local authority's local plan which covers developments such as provision of homes, leisure, retail and commercial development and infrastructure for transport, telecommunications, waste, and energy. The neighbourhood plan can be used, however, influence the finer details of any development, such as the type, design, location and mix of new development.[2]

Neighbourhood development plans or orders do not take effect unless there is a majority of support in a referendum of the neighbourhood. They also have to meet a number of conditions before they can be put to a community referendum and legally come into force. Some local authorities suggest that on average the process is likely to take around two years.

The neighbourhood planning specialists Locality estimate on their website the cost to be from around £10,000 at the lower end, where the plan is for a small rural settlement for example, up to as much as £80,000 where the plan is for a large complex area and is entirely produced by a professional team.

For more detailed information on neighbourhood development plans see Library briefing paper, Neighbourhood planning.


The lack of affordable housing is a real issue to my constituents and the existence of empty homes at the heart of our community provides a real opportunity to address this issue in a timely and effective manner. Reintegrating these properties into the housing market will give the opportunity for local people to be housed close to where they work and their children go to school.

Aside from the wasted asset that empty homes represent, they can also be a blight on our communities. Unused and poorly maintained properties can be an eyesore, reducing house prices in the area; they can attract vermin, imposing costs on the council and neighbours; in extreme circumstances they can even attract vandalism, which can be a precursor for more serious crime. If you are concerned about an empty property you can call 01803 207201 (Torbay) or 01803 861234 (South Hams). You can also visit  Shelter who will pass on the details to the appropriate public body.

Help for homeowners

Council tax exemption.
It is possible to claim a council tax exemption for the first month that a property is empty. If the property remains empty after 2 years a 50% premium will be payable, although renovation works can be taken into consideration. For more information, see South Hams District Council's website  or Torbay Council's website

Uninhabitable homes.
If a home is not reasonably repairable and is not habitable, it can be removed altogether from council tax charging. For more details and to apply for removal click here . Please note that your property may be placed in a higher council tax band once it has been made habitable.

Financial assistance.
If a property has been empty for more than 6 months it is possible to obtain low-cost finance to bring your property up to a liveable standard. For more information see SHDC   or Torbay Council

Direct Let Scheme.
In the South Hams it is also possible to gain assistance with up to 75% of costs up the value of £15,000 in order to make a property habitable. This is in return for signing up the Council's Direct Let Scheme for at least 3 years after completing the renovation.

Letting.
Would you like to be a landlord? If you don't want to deal with what is required of landlords it is possible to pay an agent to manage your property, find tenants and collect rent (for a fee). It is best to use an accredited agent

Sale.
Sometimes it is in the best interests of a property owner to sell their asset and free up some funds for other uses. In that scenario it is possible to either auction the property or sell it via an estate agent. Auctions in particular have the benefit of a rapid turnaround time.

Guardianship.
If a property is intended to be vacant for an indeterminate period of time it is possible to have someone live in the property to maintain and secure it for future use. Click here for an example of the services offered  (other firms are available).

Council powers

Section 215 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990.
Empty properties can reduce the value of adjoining properties by up to 18%, as well as attracting vandalism and other forms of petty crime. In these instances the Local Authority can compel an owner to perform works on the house, ranging from painting the exterior to clearing rubbish – often, this leads to the house being brought back into use as once works have started it does not cost much extra to renovate the interior too. For more information click here

Empty Dwellings Management Order.
If a property has been unoccupied for over 2 years and represents a blight on a community, the local authority can use its powers under the Housing Act 2004 and take over management of the property in order to bring it back into residential use. While the local authority will control the property, it will not be able to sell the property and all rights associated with ownership will remain with the private owner. This ensures a balance is met between private property rights and the damage which empty properties can wreak upon communities. This power has not been used by South Hams District Council to date. Click here for more information

Flats over shops.
Since September 2012 it is possible to build two flats in office or storage space above a shop without planning permission. This means that these often overlooked empty properties can be brought back into circulation with a minimum of red tape.

Private sector leasing.
A local authority or housing association has the power to take out a lease on an empty property, and then let it out to bring it back into use. This is of greatest help in situations where the property owner is daunted by the prospect of taking on the responsibility of being a landlord. For more details call your local authority on 01803 207201 (Torbay) or 01803 861234 (South Hams).