EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK LOCAL PLAN ADOPTION

The Exmoor National Park Local Plan is now available.  It will guide development and the use of land on Exmoor until 2031 and indicates what will be permitted through planning applications.  Its adoption follows scrutiny by an independent Inspector who conducted a thorough examination into the Plan and held public hearing sessions into the key issues that it seeks to address.

Many local households experience challenges finding suitable housing for themselves and their families and the new Local Plan gives priority to affordable housing for local people including through self-build. The previous 2005 Plan led to nearly 100 affordable homes for local people being built in many communities across Exmoor. As a result, over 200 local people have been assisted across the moor – some living in homes they have built themselves, some by private developers or landlords and others by Housing Associations. More still needs to be done, and the new Plan widens opportunities for local people to address their housing needs including for those needing accessible or adaptable homes: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/planning/planning-policy/local-plan.  

A message which came through strongly in consultations on the Plan was the importance of keeping viable working communities on the moor, including younger people and families. Together with the focus on local needs homes, the new Plan looks to safeguard community services and facilities such as shops and pubs.  There are also opportunities for businesses to extend, to re-use buildings or build new premises in settlements, as well as increased flexibility for some types of visitor accommodation.

It is hoped that these measures will help make sure Exmoor’s communities can continue to thrive in the future.  As a National Park recognised nationally for its beauty, care has also been taken to ensure the Plan will conserve and enhance Exmoor’s natural beauty and wildlife as well as its towns, villages and buildings.

National Park Authority Chairman Robin Milton said: “This new Plan for Exmoor is the result of extensive consultation with local communities, businesses and stakeholders.  The starting point was the views and comments made by all those people who come along to one of the ‘Your Future Exmoor’ events and I am grateful to everyone who took the time then or who has contributed since. It is fantastic to have an up to date Local Plan which helps to give local communities and businesses opportunities to thrive, whilst conserving and enhancing the National Park and its special qualities.”

LAST CHANCE TO TAKE PART IN THE WEST SOMERSET COMMUNITY LAND TRUST’S HOUSING NEEDS SURVEY

The West Somerset Community Land Trust (WSCLT) is carrying out an important piece of research to establish what the housing need is in the area, including where people need houses, what they can afford and what their requirements are. To take part in the first stage of this research, and help create this valuable resource for housing providers, go to: www.wsclt.com, and fill out the short housing needs survey. The deadline is 31 January.

Following the survey, focus groups will be carried out to get a more in-depth understanding of people’s needs. Meanwhile, housing professionals and those that work with people who may be in need are being consulted.

CLT is also looking to recruit ‘local housing contacts’, both to signpost people in the community to them, and to identify potential sites. This will mirror the successful work being carried out by the Exmoor Rural Housing Network. If you are interested in becoming a housing contact, or would like more information, please contact Maureen Smith on 01643 709478 or Hester Watson on 01643 821768.

Once the local housing need has been established, the CLT hope to build or renovate a series of high standard, sustainable, community owned rental properties, which will provide local people with affordable rents and security of tenure.

Maureen Smith, WSCLT Secretary, said: “The shortage of sustainable housing which is affordable to live in, in Minehead and West Somerset as whole, will continue to worsen as few large sites are available and those that are have got a lack of infrastructure. Providing this will increase costs and deter developers. Small sites, including the mystery brownfield site announced recently, can help, but hardly constitute a “housing boom”. As so many homes built for the open market disappear into the second home category or become expensive private lettings, providing permanently low cost homes is the way forward and is what West Somerset Community Land Trust has pledged to do.”

WSCLT received initial startup funding from Forum 21, Somerset Community Foundation and the National CLT Network. It is working to provide homes that are genuinely affordable based on local wages not national averages. The organisation will be community controlled and any homes built or renovated will be owned for the benefit of the community to meet the needs and requirements of the community.

To take part in the survey, discuss becoming a housing contact, become a WSCLT member or supporter, or for more information, please go to: www.wsclt.com or contact Maureen Smith on 01643 709478.

EXMOOR RURAL HOUSING NETWORK LAUNCHED

A new Exmoor Rural Housing Network, launched by Exmoor National Park, has commissioned Devon Communities Together to work across the National Park to bring people together – local people who are looking for a home in the right place that they can afford and those who have some land or a redundant building or holiday let that could be used in this way.

It can be very difficult for people living on Exmoor to find homes that are affordable and close to work and family.  House prices are high and average wages low. Unless local people are able to live and work on Exmoor, village community life will suffer and enabling the provision of more affordable housing in Exmoor has been a long-term priority for the National Park.

As well as making local-needs housing a primary aim of Exmoor’s planning policies, in 2002 the National Park brought together housing authorities (the district councils), housing associations and other agencies to form the Rural Housing Project with the main objective of helping to bring forward new schemes.  The Project had a good deal of success and between 2006 and 2012, more than 100 new affordable homes have been provided in the National Park for local people in housing need.

The majority of these new homes benefitted from public funding from the Homes & Communities Agency but, unfortunately, since 2010 government has withdrawn the vast majority of support for rural housing.  These changes, combined with local government cuts and changes in the rules imposed on housing associations, led to partners having to withdraw their funding support leading to the eventual winding up of the Rural Housing Project in 2015.

“At the National Park we share the very real concerns about the need for suitable affordable housing being expressed by groups like Exmoor Young Voices and Exmoor Uprising,” said Dr Nigel Stone, Chief Executive at Exmoor National Park. “Unfortunately, Government has cut funding, made changes to the planning system, and made various impositions on housing associations, that have combined to make it extremely difficult to bring forward new housing proposals in the most rural areas, like Exmoor.”

He continued, “That is why we have taken the initiative of bringing together a number of Exmoor based organisations with an interest in housing to form a new project to help address the need for local housing.  We are looking for an ‘Exmoor solution’ to an Exmoor problem that will explore new ways forward including charitable organisations, potential new Community Land Trusts, and possible ways to help people meet their own housing needs through self-build.”

The Rural Housing Network will be building a register of people who are looking for alternative housing so that there is a better understanding of the locations and type of housing that is needed.  To help with this work it will be recruiting and training ‘Local Housing Contacts’ to act as a link within communities and help signpost households in housing need to the appropriate organisations.

Exmoor Rural Housing Coordinator, Sue Southwell, says, “I will be recruiting and training Local Housing Contacts who will help signpost households in housing need to the appropriate organisations so if you are interested in becoming a Contact or if you are in housing need within the National Park, do get in touch with me for a chat on 01392 248919*121 or email me: sue@devoncommunities.org.uk. All contacts and enquiries will be dealt with in the utmost confidentiality.”

Leaders take Crown tenants campaign to the top

The leaders of two Somerset councils are taking their battle to help Crown Estate tenants facing eviction right to the top.

Cllr John Williams, Leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council, and Cllr Tim Taylor, Leader of neighbouring West Somerset Council, are taking up the cudgels on behalf of residents who face losing their cherished homes.

The leaders have co-signed a letter to the Crown Estate Commissioners (CEC), Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, as well as local MPs Jeremy Browne (Taunton) and Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset). They have also written separately to HM The Queen on the matter.

They say: “At meetings with officers from the Crown and their agents Smith Gore, we have expressed our deepest misgivings about both the intended sales and the manner in which they have been undertaken. Whilst we acknowledge that the Crown is in their legal rights to evict tenants who hold shorthold tenancies, we cannot accept that it is morally or ethically acceptable for any public organisation to tear the heart out of local communities in Somerset in this way.

“These are small tight-knit communities where residents rely on and support each other on a daily basis. Their children attend the local schools and families support the local shops and businesses. For one gentleman, his grandfather walked past the village church on his way to fight for his country 100 years ago in France, never to return.

“Their links and heritage to these villages goes beyond the here and now. They are facing the imminent destruction of both a way of life and of the community they have grown up in, imposed on them at the stroke of a pen.

“Despite our criticisms and concerns, we do believe that there are ways to move forward from this. We wholeheartedly welcome the opportunity to develop a Somerset West Liaison Group with the Crown to explore alternatives. For example, we would ask them to model their asset strategy on only selling empty properties nationally and gauging what the interest would be across the country for tenants who could afford to, to buy their own properties. This could avoid the need for evictions and the resulting destruction of local communities.

“We reiterate the urgent need to stop the threat of eviction to all Crown tenants in Somerset immediately and ask that you correspond with us so as to put in place a local Liaison Group that can offer some local accountability to residents and who we can work with to develop alternative solutions.”

The campaign on behalf of the tenants has all-party support following meetings at both Councils.

The authorities are supporting tenants through their housing teams, offering one-to-one help and advice and talking through potential options either in the private rented sector and/or by registering with Homefinder Somerset.