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homes benefitted from public funding from the Homes & Communities Agency but, unfortunately, since 2010 government has withdrawn the vast majority of support for rural housing.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: email@example.com. All contacts and enquiries will be dealt with in the utmost confidentiality.”