Agenda item

Housing Service.

Head of Planning Housing and Health to report, discussions to focus on the following areas:


·         A general overview of the Housing service.

·         Housing for rent and shared ownership schemes.

·         Rough sleeping.

·         Landlords and lack of quality rented accommodation.




The Chair welcomed the Head of Planning Housing and Health and the Service Manager (Development Management) to the meeting.


The Head of Planning, Housing and Health and the Service Manager (Development Management) explained the Council’s role as the strategic authority for North Devon, which was displayed in the visual format of a jigsaw to illustrate the various elements of the service. The Head of Planning, Housing and Health added that in order for the Council to deliver as a good strategic housing authority it had to perform well in each section of the jigsaw.


The Head of Planning Housing and Health and the Service Manager (Development Management) outlined each of the various elements, which were as follows:


·         Making best use of existing housing.


This area focussed on the administration of Devon Home Choice, which provided around 300 household lets per year together with the management of social housing. As part of this area, the Council was also working to try and bring empty homes back into use and encouraging under occupied households to downsize to make the best use of existing housing.


·         Enabling new housing.


This area included a focus on the national requirement for the Council to meet the five year land supply. To address this requirement, the Council would be looking at the delivery times associated with any new build permissions together with ensuring that developers cannot retract on their viability assessments with regards to the requirement for affordable housing for applications of more than five dwellings. Officers were concerned by the number of five unit proposals that were coming forward and would look carefully as to whether it was an efficient use of land or whether it was being done to avoid affordable housing contributions.


·         Understanding the housing Market and the scale and nature of imbalance.


This area was underpinned by a lot of survey work, with the current local plan identifying a significant requirement for two and three bedroomed housing. There was a requirement for affordable housing with 30% provision being identified as a realistic figure to achieve. Predictions in migration to the North Devon area were reviewed on a regular basis. Work in relation to the new Local Plan was a fundamental element to the review of in migration.


·         Private sector housing.


This area focussed on the private and private rented sector together with the promotion of energy efficiency. There are currently relatively low levels of sup social housing and this displaces more people into the private rented sector, which is now accommodating more families with young children.





·         Supporting vulnerable people.


Within the previous 12 month period, the Council had accommodated 50+ people who had previously been rough sleeping within the district.


·         Preventing homelessness.


To prevent homelessness, the Council provides commonly advice, assistance with rent and deposits and temporary accommodation. The number of homelessness presentations for the first three months of 2021 was 307 with an overwhelming body of people presenting for housing need one in the North Devon community. The Council’s safety net was to continue to support the provision of temporary accommodation, which was currently supporting 40 households per night at a cost in access of £65K.


·         Unbalanced housing market:


This was largely from a loss of rented accommodation together with an increase in holiday lets. In migration from retirees to the area coupled with the flexibly of many businesses to allow home working meant that people were moving out of the cities and choosing to settle in North Devon.


·         Viability challenges on new developments:


The forthcoming planning white paper enforces the Council’s ability to uphold the findings of viability assessments to ensure that developers honour the terms of the planning permission and build the agreed allocation of affordable housing.


·         Prevalence of second homes:


Changes in national legislation would seek to address the prevalence of second homes together with local planning policy and neighbourhood plans to ensure that all new builds must be local, which might eventually be adopted at district level.


·         What this means for the community:


Ø  Addressing housing need is an even greater challenge.

Ø  The economic impact, concern re the potential for businesses to relocate outside of the North Devon area.

Ø  Public health and the importance of mental health support together with understanding the significant impact that losing a property can have on your mental health.

Ø  The sustainability of key public services.

Ø  Managing the changes to the social characteristics of the community through the loss of schools and shops within a local area.


·         Our action plan:


Ø  To maintain the “safety net”

Ø  To establish new programmes/interventions to increase supply and reduce demand.

Ø  Stakeholder engagement through a Member-led housing enquiry, which would look to bring empty properties back into use together with working alongside the Environment Agency to review areas where there was land available to build housing but the area was located in a flood risk area.

Ø  Lobbying the government for change.



In response to a number of questions, the Head of Planning, Housing and Health and the Service Manager (Development Management) advised the following:


·         The Tenant Fees Act was established to regulate the behaviour of private sector landlords and letting agents.


·         Vulnerable people in supported living was a bit more complex as the care element was supported by Devon County Council and whilst the housing element was provided by North Devon Council.


·         The Homelessness Reduction Act 2018, required Councils to provide meaningful assistance to meet the housing needs of an individual on the day of demand.


·         The Housing service was funded by core funding from government and dedicated grants, for example there is a Rough Sleepers Initiative Fund to support this area.


·         The importance of refreshing the Council’s knowledge and understanding of the North Devon area in terms of wage levels together with the appreciation of affordability and the significant volumes of property available.


·         The Council collected data from a variety of sources to obtain information from need intelligence to ensure that the correct policy decisions were taken.


·         The Council must not lose sight of the critical role it played during the pandemic, with many individual officers and teams expanding their roles and responsibilities to meet the needs of the community, which was awe inspiring to witness.


·         The Service Manager (Development Management) the demand for certain types of property depended on the location. However, the largest demand was for 2/3 bedroomed houses and bungalows.


The Committee discussed the developments with five properties or less where no affordable housing was required in accordance with current regulations. Members expressed their concerns regarding the ways in which some developers try to extricate themselves from the agreements within the viability assessments and not build the affordable dwellings that had been agreed. The Service Manager (Development Management advised that any issues with developers at a local level need to be evidence based for the Council to be able to take action.


The Members agreed that that the current system for the consideration of planning applications was not working effectively because of the Council’s lack of a five year land supply. The impact of this meant that when applications were approved the Members were under pressure from the local communities.


The Head of Planning, Housing and Health advised that following a

positive meeting of the Strategy and Resources Committee, the

Committee agreed to convene a North Devon Housing enquiry and

engage with stakeholders to review best practice. The meeting would take

place sometime in October 2021 with the intended outcome being a set of

actions and recommendations for consideration by the District Council

together with agreed points on which government assistance was required. He added that he was optimistic about the process and that the Council should be applauded for its role in Community leadership.



In response to a question, the Service Manager (Development Management) advised that there was a clawback opportunity for the Council in the event that a developer sold a development of properties for more than specified in the viability assessment and this would be incorporated into legal agreements.


She advised that the neighbourhood plans would need to be considered by the Council’s Planningteam to assess the priorities together with other mechanisms currently used. For any developments of 10 properties or above, the Council was implementing the Homes for life Standard.


The Head of Planning, Health and Housing advised that there were areas in Ilfracombe with a lot of empty properties and there were plans to bring approximately 50 homes per year back into use. The Service Manager (Development Management advised that there was potential for a large gain from bringing empty homes back into use.


The Head of Planning, Housing and Health advised that there were various tools at the Council’s disposal to bring empty homes back into use. In the past there had been reluctance with different administrations to enforce such measures. However, there was now an overriding social imperative to bring forward a supply of housing to meet the demand in whichever mechanism was required. He added that any increase in net supply of empty/new properties would deliver a financial gain in New Homes Bonus to the Council.


The Committee members thanked the officers for their attendance at the meeting and were encouraged by their pro-active approach towards developers and owners of empty properties.


The Committee discussed the possibility of the Council building its own housing. The Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive advised that officers had explored a few small parcels of Council owned land and had held initial discussions with North Devon Homes to ascertain what could be provided. Further discussions would be included with the discussions with stakeholders at the informal meeting of the Policy Development Committee in October 2021.


The Chair thanked the officers for their attendance at the meeting and extended an invitation for their attendance at a future meeting of the Committee.


RESOLVED, that the presentation be noted.


Councillor Spear declared a personal interest as an owner of rental property.