Council aims to help first time buyers
AN ACTION plan is being drawn-up to tackle the affordable housing crisis in Suffolk and limit the problems caused by its 5,000 second homes.Suffolk County Council has revealed it may look at releasing some of its farmland for starter homes to be built, as well as a number of other new initiatives.
By Danielle Nuttall
AN ACTION plan is being drawn-up to tackle the affordable housing crisis in Suffolk and limit the problems caused by its 5,000 second homes.
Suffolk County Council has revealed it may look at releasing some of its farmland for starter homes to be built, as well as a number of other new initiatives.
The news comes in a County Hall report into the impact of Suffolk's second homes on life in villages and market towns.
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Demand for holiday homes in Suffolk is continuing to push up house prices, the report says, and contributes to the much wider problem of affordable property shortages.
But it goes on to suggest ways of tackling the affordable housing shortage - like releasing council-owned farmland for building work.
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There could also be more "creative interpretation" of planning guidelines, which may help provide more homes in communities where they are needed.
Council leader Bryony Rudkin welcomed the report, and said: "This is an important step in getting to grips with the second homes issue, and their associated impact on affordable housing in the county and I welcome this paper and the chance to debate the issues.
"There has been some welcome recent news on this subject, with the Government's recent 50 per cent increase in the allocation of affordable housing.
"The recommendation to carry out a wide-ranging review of housing is a welcome one, and we know we need to get a grip on the way data is collected. We know that hard evidence on the impact of second homes is not available - this is why we are looking at carrying out additional research. We are also looking at wider issues, and at different types of affordable housing.
"There are also other measures to consider such as using the Rural Housing Enabler Fund, which would give the county council the chance to release land for affordable housing from its farms estate."
The report says second homes are often smaller properties which would have been attractive to first-time buyers, who increasingly cannot afford to live in areas where they grew up - leading to a loss of family ties and community cohesion.
It warns second homes can create a "social divide" fuelled by resentment between locals and incomers, and might dissolve traditional support networks.
And the report suggests second homeowners make less use of village services including shops, businesses and schools, which could lead to their closure.
The county council has already undertaken an initial investigation into the issue, but now hopes to spearhead a more detailed review.
This could involve focusing on individual towns such as Leiston, in the Suffolk Coastal district, where the number of second homes has been identified as growing.
Many picture postcard towns and villages in Suffolk, particularly along the coast, have become highly sought-after locations for holiday homes. Southwold alone has 388 second homes.
But the high demand has sparked a surge in house prices and many local people have been priced out of the market.
Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural action group Suffolk Acre, said: "Second homes are not the primary factor in rural communities. The biggest question is the availability of, and lack of affordable housing,
"That is what is squeezing people out of communities. Because we have a limited supply of housing, those who cannot afford a high price cannot remain.
"I think what the report will show is second homes is not the bigger issue. The bigger issue is affordable housing and that's one we all need to focus on."
The report also reveals the positive impacts second homes can have in rural communities including revitalising some areas with new ideas and inward investment.
The council's initial report is due to be discussed at a meeting of the sustainable Suffolk overview and scrutiny committee this week.