A new report on rural housing says that for the next generation needing to live and work in rural areas, finding a home they can afford will be tougher than ever. As West Dorset finalises its Local Plan for development over the next 13 years, the Yarn looks at the future of housing in West Dorset and discovers there are no easy answers
Housing shortages are severe throughout the UK, but rural areas face special difficulties and a deteriorating situation is going to get even worse.
According to the latest report from the Rural Housing Policy Review, wages in rural areas are on average £7,000 a year lower than in cities, but house prices are 25 per cent higher.
As is the case in West Dorset, second home buyers and retirees compete for homes, so keeping prices high for both sale and rent. The Review recognises that high rents are also a problem and recommends that those for social housing should be affordable in relation to local incomes — not necessarily at 80 per cent of the market rate, which is the current definition.
The stock of social housing is much lower than in urban areas, and many housing associations admit that the number of new, affordable homes in the pipeline is at its lowest for years.
Removing the requirement to build any affordable homes at all on smaller developments could reduce the annual provision by 50 per cent.
Larger developers steer clear of small, complex, rural schemes and there are few incentives for landowners to release land for affordable schemes.
Review chairman Lord (Richard) Best, an authority on affordable housing, believes that solutions lie not only in leadership from government, but also in giving local people the chance to take part in shaping future housing.
He recommends more support for neighbourhood plans, and a simpler way to get a mortgage on an affordable home, which then could not be sold on the open market if the borrower defaulted on the loan.
In areas with high second home ownership a percentage of new homes, or possibly all new homes, should be sold with a condition that they can only be used as principal residences.
Lord Best concludes: “Leadership from central and local government is essential and, indeed, Government is the target for most of the recommendations.
“But harnessing the goodwill and creativity of local people… will be just as important.”
By day, he’s a Bridport postman, by night he’s on the road, carving out a career as a stand-up comedian
Anne King meets Tom Glover and hears why he lives in Axminster, when he really wants to live in Bridport
Bridport born and bred, with a young family, at 27 Tom Glover is like many of his contemporaries. He went to school in the town; his parents and grandparents live there.
An overheated rental market and high property prices compared to average local wages make finding a home difficult.
Tom and his partner Lisa Bright have a new baby daughter, Effie, and a dog, Ted. They both earn decent salaries and have, at last, managed to buy a small house — in Axminster.
Support for Future Bridport
Tom has spoken out in support of Future Bridport, a local group of people who are backing proposals to develop Vearse Farm.
“We rented three properties in Bridport. It just seemed that instead of progressing to bigger properties, we were paying more and more money and getting smaller and smaller properties,” he recalls.
“We ended up in a one-bed flat above a garage for two of us and a dog.
“We both earn probably a bit above the average wage for the town, but we found that we couldn’t save anything because all our money would go to rent and bills.
“So in the end we decided that it would be cheaper to buy, because our mortgage, now, in Axminster in a two-bed house with parking and a little garden, is less than we were paying in rent for that one-bed flat.
‘It’s not just about me’
“We were helped with the deposit, luckily, because there is no way we could have afforded that.”
Tom and Lisa lived with both sets of parents for a while and looked around Bridport for somewhere they could buy.
“But anything that was in our price range was gone before it even got on to the market and many would go for more than the asking price because there were so many people waiting for those properties.”
Tom says he doesn’t like to see green fields being built on, but feels the town needs new homes and the allocation of affordable homes could make a big difference to people in his position.
“Bridport’s population is getting bigger.
“With the success of Broadchurch, everyone wants a holiday home here — and that’s great that people want to come and live here, but there needs to be space for local people as well.
“We can’t just say: ‘Well, we don’t want to build anywhere, so you can’t have a home.
“It’s not just about me. I’m on the ladder now.
“I could say, like a lot of people seem to be saying, well, I’m all right, pull up the drawbridge and you guys can sort yourselves out.
“But there are a lot of young people in this town, like my school friends. They go away to university, they come back; there’s nothing here for them so they have to leave.
“Eventually, you are not going to have any young, interesting, vibrant people in Bridport and you need that.
“There are a number of new developments in Axminster and I know of five sets of people who have managed to get on the housing ladder there through these new developments.
Axminster on the up?
“So Axminster is actually becoming quite a popular destination for young people and young families.
“And although the town itself feels a little bit dead at the moment — there are a lot of empty businesses — in 15 or 20 years time it could overtake Bridport because there will be a lot more money in Axminster and a much younger population.
“And I don’t want to see that happen, to be honest, because I think Bridport punches above its weight, culturally. People are amazed to see there are three theatres; in summer we have a festival for practically every weekend.
“So I support development at Vearse Farm and instead of just opposing it for ten or 15 years and letting them do what they want, we should get on board and try and mould it into something that works for the town.”
But Tom admits there are no easy answers and he doesn’t support all plans for development in Bridport.
“For instance, I would not be in favour of development on the south-west quadrant [St Michael’s trading estate],” he says.
“That’s an important area where people already live and work and there is no way rents would remain at the levels they are now.”
Keeping skilled young people, in coastal areas is crucial to the future of the tourism industry, according to the Dorset-based National Tourism Academy
In evidence supplied to the Select Committee inquiry into tourism, Academy Director Samantha Richardson said:
“Critical to achieving growth, is a skilled workforce and a benchmark level of training and skills, if the UK coastal tourism industry is to compete on an international stage.
“Sound training and skills should be embedded within the industry, connected to the national curriculum and cut across all levels of the workforce.
“It is essential that school leavers and graduates perceive a career in the UK coastal tourism industry as aspirational, with solid career progression and excellent prospects. This will help stem the drain of talented young people from coastal towns and help tackle the levels of unemployment.
“By working closely with the local industry, it has been possible to gain a picture of skills gaps resort-wide. One key sector, for example, is the lack of chefs, a problem identified by hotels and restaurants.”
The Last-time Seller
The housing market has snakes as well as ladders and one of them is old age.
People in West Dorset are getting older faster, demographically speaking, than the British average.
The 2011 census found a 40 per cent increase in the number of people of 90-plus in this area, and 25 per cent were found to be over 65, compared with only 16 per cent nationally.
A higher percentage — 73 per cent in 2011, as opposed to 64 per cent in the UK as a whole — own our own homes.
Anyone who has delivered leaflets in a rural area may have been surprised and concerned by the number of elderly people who appear to be so disabled that they are scarcely able to answer the doorbell.
What happens to all these properties? Ask a local estate agent and the picture comes into focus.
Martin Bowen-Ashwin of Humberts, Bridport, said an older population had led to a demand for smaller homes.
“Markets are driven by the five Ds: death, debt, divorce, down-from-London (or the South East in general, or Bristol), and downsizing. People often decide to move because managing a big garden has become too much for them.”
Mr Bowen-Ashwin adds that another notable trend is in people moving closer to their grandchildren, in order to help look after them.
“Older people are healthier now and more mothers have careers.”
Potential can command more interest
Charles Kennedy, another long-standing Bridport estate agent, has also noted a reverse trend: retired people moving to the east, then moving back west after five years or so to stay in contact with their families.
West Dorset has long been a retirement area, but the Jurassic Coast’s classification in 2001 as a world heritage site has brought buyers from far away.
“There used to be a big difference in price between South East and South West,” he said. “Not now.”
Second homes are keenly sought, a market that has recovered well after a dip in 2008-9.
“A three-hour radius is weekendable,” said Mr Bowen-Ashwin. “Bungalows are popular, with anywhere near the sea selling at a premium.”
It is hard to get an estate agent to admit that any property is hard to sell, but apparently a huge house and garden, on a main road, with a price tag of more than £1m, might sit on the market for a while — though people are not necessarily put off buying a crumbling old house in need of repair, especially if it has a bit of land. Indeed potential can command more interest than a property that has been thoroughly “done up”. Typically, these houses will be sold by older people needing to live somewhere smaller with a greater level of support.
Unsurprisingly, there is a thriving market in “retirement living”, otherwise known as sheltered accommodation. Flats come with services attached, such as a community room and a communal garden, although owners have their own space, with their own kitchen and washing-machine, for as long as they are fit enough to use them. These units are offered by both social housing providers and private landlords, some of whom are part of large, national companies.
Around a pine kitchen table in a house on the western outskirts of Bridport, members of ADVEARSE ponder that, and the future
George Cox, Barry Bates and Richard Freer (from left to right, pictured opposite) are the kernel of the group of local people who have put their heads above the parapet and vociferously objected to the draft Local Plan proposals to build somewhere approaching 800 new homes on the green fields of Vearse Farm.
‘Too much too soon’
The land, technically in Symondsbury parish, which fills in the triangle formed by the A35 at Miles Cross and the ‘old’ West Road, is currently designated for a very large new housing development, albeit over a number of years.
“We are not against all development, but this is too much, too soon,” says Richard.
“We think the numbers are excessive. Cranbrook near Exeter is a new 800-home development considered fit for a major city with an airport. Bridport is a small market town.”
Advearse members are perplexed that the prospect of the Vearse Farm development hasn’t created a bigger outcry since it was formally mooted in West Dorset District Council Local Plan proposals in 2011. They claim that consultation was virtually non-existent.
They also suspect that the number of 760-plus homes was fairly arbitrarily slotted into Bridport to meet government targets and that the west of the county is taking more than its fair share of new homes as other areas successfully lobby against proposals in the draft plan. And to put it mildly, they are disappointed that local councillors at every level haven’t taken up the cudgels.
Disappointed by local councillors
“No negotiation or consultation took place actually in Bridport. Town councillors say that meetings they thought they were going to be invited to never took place,” says Richard.
ADVEARSE is also concerned about the effect such an influx of new inhabitants — perhaps 2,500, compared to the current Bridport population of about 7,500 — would have on the local infrastructure.
They say the access, along West Road, now a B-road, is unsuitable and fear that in the current climate developers and cash-strapped local authorities may not take forward plans to build a replacement primary school (for St Mary’s) or a new roundabout from the notorious Miles Cross on the A35.
They add that such a development ignores national and West Dorset policies on new building in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Vearse Farm ‘won’t solve affordable housing crisis’
And they fear that such intensive development on the gateway to the Jurassic Coast could put off the tourists so crucial to the area’s vitality.
Barry Bates also warns: “If anyone thinks Vearse Farm will solve the problem of a lack of affordable housing, then they are very wrong. There is the possibility that developers simply won’t be able to afford the affordables [currently proposed at one-third of the development] and the other infrastructure — these things are at risk.”
Being retired, of “a certain age” and living in desirable homes off West Allington, built perhaps a dozen years ago, some of which look out over the fields in question, Richard, George and Barry are only too aware of accusations of nimbyism.
Informed debate needed
“But the only people who are really going to protest about these kinds of issues are the people who have an informed view about it,” says Barry Bates.
“All we are asking for is an informed debate about the pace of development for Bridport and this location and the positive advantages and disadvantages, via a Neighbourhood Plan, which we are committed to supporting — Richard is on the steering group.
“We surely are entitled to draw attention to a major concern — and our opinions are shared by many people who don’t live locally.
“We have all made an investment in this area,” adds Richard Freer.
“We came here because we love it. We haven’t bought our homes to sell them and make a killing. We are the kind of people who support the businesses in the town.”
Now ADVEARSE awaits the Local Plan inspector’s review. They are somewhat heartened that West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin has indicated to them that any planning application would come after the Neighbourhood Plan comes into being.
The ADVEARSE petition calling on West Dorset District Council to recognise the widespread opposition to Vearse Farm and to remove it from the Local Plan is open for signatures online at: you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-vearse-farm
George Cox points out: “If Vearse Farm does not happen in the numbers proposed, if there was a smaller development, well then we couldn’t grumble.
“But what we want people to think about is, will Vearse Farm ruin our small market town?”
More information at www.advearse.org.uk
Vearse Farm Facts
- The Vearse Farm Urban Extension is seen as the main development site for the Bridport area in the draft Local Plan, with the capacity for a mixture of homes, jobs and community facilities, including about 760 homes and approximately 4ha employment land.
- The provision of a new school will also eventually allow the existing St Mary’s school site to be re-developed.
- The draft says: “Land at Vearse Farm within the line of the bypass is designated to meet the long-term needs of the town, with new homes, employment workspace and community facilities, including a new school, leisure and recreation facilities and public open space. It is close to the town centre, with potentially good pedestrian and cycle connections.”
- It is suggested that delivery be phased over 10 or more years, with the intention of providing 50 to 80 new homes each year.
The proposed Local Plan sets out a long-term planning strategy for the area up to the year 2028 and includes detailed policies and site proposals for housing, employment, leisure and infrastructure.
- The land is currently owned by Melvyn Sparks.
- When adopted, the Local Plan will form the main basis for making decisions on planning applications.
- West Dorset District Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council are currently preparing modifications to the submitted Local Plan. The councils will make these modifications available for public consultation when complete.
- The Plan Inspector will then consider local people’s comments on the modifications before issuing his final report. Each authority will then consider the Inspector’s report before it is adopted formally.
Members of Bridport Cohousing think it is and hope their proposed scheme on 4.5 acres of land next to the town’s community hospital could signal a new way of thinking about where and how we live.
As they say: ‘it’s a way of living that’s more green, less costly and more neighbourly’
Plans have been lodged for a development of 30 affordable homes, from four-bedroom family houses to one-bed flats, of which 40 per cent will be offered in shared ownership or affordable rental arrangements by a housing association.
The other homes will be sold to local people at 80 per cent of the market value, on a part-buy or leasehold basis, with 20 per cent remaining with Bridport Cohousing.
It is on an “exception site” — a plot of land on the edge of the defined development boundary, which may not have been allocated for housing development.
Everyone living there will be a member of Bridport Cohousing and support its commitment to living as a community.
A common house will offer a range of facilities for the residents and people living nearby and a two-acre organic community allotment will be open to co-housing members and local residents.
The new homes will be built with sustainability in mind, likely to include zero-emissions heating systems, homes with high insulation levels, car pooling, electric bicycles and possibly limits on private car ownership.
Judith Griffies and Sally Collings are firm believers in cohousing.
Both are keen to stress that the communal aspects of the cohousing vision don’t mean it will be a commune.
“It will be a neighbourhood community,” says Sally.
“How we use the land and the common house will be decided by people in the neighbourhood.
“It will mean we can share things, like keeping chickens, perhaps, or growing fruit trees.”
Adds Judith: “It’s often nicer and more fun to be able to do things together anyway.
“Wherever you are, you have neighbours, but we will know that we will have neighbours who want to be neighbourly.”
Sally agrees. “I think it is a good combination. Your home is your own, but there will be the common facilities — the good side of being part of a neighbourhood where you know your neighbours, but with privacy when you want it.
“The sustainable aspect of the houses is really attractive too, with minimal heating costs.”
Judith believes this is a very important aspect of the development for many people.
“It works on the principle of using as few resources as you can, being ecologically and environmentally sensitive. It is a great opportunity for a new build.”
To find out more about joining, or becoming a Friend, visit www.bridportcohousing.org.uk
Far too few affordable homes being built
by Mark Van de Weyer
Many local families look certain to have to wait years for a decent home because insufficient social housing is being built.
West Dorset is an area with above average house prices and relatively low wages and salaries. This means that for a great many working families there is no realistic hope of ever owning a home and they are forced to rent.
Politicians from all parties agree that the only answer is to provide much more affordable housing but none of them so far have come up with a set of policies that actually makes this happen.
Councils are no longer directly responsible. They now work alongside housing associations, local community land trusts (CLTs) and the Homes and Communities Agency, which allocates government funds. This system, with four separate organisations involved, is proving to be incapable of delivering sufficient social housing — or making best use of the limited public money that is available.
The complexities of setting up a local CLT have discouraged some people from getting involved, which can mean no social housing being built in some areas.
This problem has been recognised by the National CLT Network. It says: “Because that can be exciting and daunting in equal measure we offer a helping hand throughout the process.”
Fortunately there are some success stories and the next few months will see the completion of a number of affordable housing schemes in the area. Most of the new properties will be available to rent, with a few being offered on the basis of shared ownership.
One of the most thrilling developments will be to see families being able to move into the 10 homes being built on a site close to the Bridport Medical Centre.
It will be the culmination of seven years’ hard grind by a small and determined group of volunteers who set up the Symene CLT at Symondsbury and have battled through endless obstacles to ensure that homes for people in their village actually got built.
Another exciting project is the six affordable homes due to be finished this spring at Toller Porcorum. The CLT there has also included a new community Post Office as part of the scheme.
The Upper Frome Valley CLT is shortly due to complete 14 affordable homes at Maiden Newton, and schemes in Chideock (12 homes) and Marshwood (eight homes) are also close to being finished.
But the list of projects to follow those under way is woefully short.
High land prices an obstacle for social housing
Keith Jenkin, a director of the Lyme Regis Community Land Trust, said it had taken two and a half years to be able to reach the stage of submitting a planning application for a scheme in the town.
“It has been a bit of a white knuckle ride so far. There has been a lot of hard work to reach this stage, where we awaiting a planning decision,” he said.
Lyme Regis CLT is hoping to build 15 affordable one, two and three-bed homes for rent on land between the A3052 and Timber Hill, next to the town’s golf club and park and ride field: “The big stumbling block is that the land in Lyme Regis is worth, what, £1M an acre? That is the problem, to be able to build affordable housing, you need cheap land.
“We are in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with an area of Special Scientific Interest to the east and an affordable home is a particular and fastidious animal which needs level ground and no risk of subsidence. That’s not easy to find in Lyme.”
Dorset CLT housing schemes taking shape
Work is continuing on two new Community Land Trust-led housing developments being delivered by development company Aster Homes in rural Dorset.
In Maiden Newton, the company is working alongside the Upper Frome Valley Community Land Trust to create 14 new homes, 12 of which are for affordable rent, with the remaining two for shared ownership.
The homes, made up of six houses, four bungalows and four flats, are currently on course to be completed in the spring.
In nearby Toller Porcorum, six new homes for affordable rent and a brand new community post office are also continuing to take shape.
Aster Homes is working with Toller Porcorum Community Land Trust to deliver the homes — five houses and one flat — which are due to be completed in spring.
The homes at both developments will be managed by Synergy Housing, Aster Homes’ sister company. The properties will be available to local people registered with Dorset Home Choice.
The average annual pay-packet was £23,488
The average house price was £267,941, more than 11 times the average salary
Private sector rent per month averaged £729
Income required for an 80 per cent mortgage was £61,244 (based on 3.5 times income)
Of the total number of properties, 5.2 per cent were second homes
(Source: Home Truths 2014/2015 — Broken Market, Broken Dreams)
Beaminster homes plan back on the agenda
Uncertainty reigns in Beaminster over plans for a new housing development, which residents thought had been deleted from the draft Local Plan.
A 70-home development on land off Hollymoor Lane had been removed from the Plan when the draft was published, much to the relief of residents in the area.
But a full planning application for 23 new homes, of which eight would be affordable, an access road, landscaping and parking has now been lodged by Summerfield Developments.
Petitions and more than 150 letters have been sent to planners at West Dorset District Council, many citing traffic problems in East Street that would be caused by the new build.
Hundreds of local people packed a public meeting organised by the developers last autumn.
Beaminster Town Council has recommended that the application be refused and has urged planners to take into consideration representations from Beaminster residents. Watch this space.
My trials and tribulations as a first-time buyer in West Dorset
by Stephen Banks
I think that I’m one of just a tiny handful of young homeowners in West Dorset, based on my experience purchasing my first property in Bridport in April 2014.
My father passed away in 2013, leaving an inheritance large enough to put down a workable deposit on a two-bedroom flat on the outskirts of Skilling. My monthly payment on a relatively short 15-year mortgage is substantially less than what I was paying in rent on a one-bedroom flat just off South Street. Buying made a lot of sense, but only because I had a good chunk of money, available for a deposit, which ended up totalling more than the mortgage itself.
Even when you’ve rustled-up a deposit large enough to cover 10 per cent or more of the property price, first-time buyers face the problem of the buy-to-let market. As far as I’m aware, the other five flats in my block are owned as buy-to-let investments and rented out privately. Similar properties at the foot of the property ladder are snapped up very quickly, then turned around and pushed out to a high demand and increasingly lucrative rental market. I ended up paying over the asking price on my flat, just to secure it quickly. I bet there was a line of buy-to-let investors just waiting to add another flat to their property portfolios.
Buy-to-let investors snap up properties
The first flat I went to look at was a beautiful “bachelor pad” in North Allington, part of a converted linen mill. It was late-18th-century and Grade II listed. Having fallen in love with it, and worked out that my budget would just about stretch to £15,000 less than the asking price, I put in an offer and hoped for the best. The seller eventually agreed to my offer, and I requested a full buildings survey to be carried out. It cost me £600 and came back saying there was exterior work on the property that seemed to be contrary to the listed building guidance.
I pulled out immediately, keen to avoid a knock on the door from the historic buildings inspector and a bill in the region of tens of thousands of pounds. A lot of the property in West Dorset is old and has some sort of listing attached to it, making it a tricky investment for the first-time buyer.
The next property I viewed was a modern two-bedroom house in Bradpole, with a small garden. It had sold before I got back to the office after viewing it.
I offered over the asking price
Over the next few months the modern properties I picked out all sold before I had the chance to put in an offer, or even view them. I ended up looking at the flat I now own and putting in an offer there and then, above the asking price, just to take it off the market before another buy-to-let investor got their hands on it.
Hope to buy somewherebigger
Then started the long and complicated process of getting a mortgage and sorting out all the paperwork required from the lawyers. Some of the questions were fair enough, but I’m sure that they were more suspicious of me as a young buyer than they would have been of an older person. I had to prove that my father had left the money to me in his will and that I hadn’t robbed a bank or come across the funds in similar illegal dealings. This took months, and would take even longer with the new mortgage rules put in place in April last year. I can barely imagine how anyone working full-time has the time to deal with purchasing a property in 2015!
I hope to move to a three-bedroom house with a garden some time in the next few years, but without the building of a substantial new crop of houses, the market around here will continue to be squeezed. I will either have to pay over the odds for a tiny modern property, or invest in an old property that needs lots of repairs.
I’m one of the lucky ones, but that doesn’t make it at all easy.