‘Keeping young people in North Norfolk is a challenge’ - What’s being done to tackle North Norfolk’s affordable housing crisis?
- Credit: Archant
With wide open skies, a stunning coastline and charming towns and villages, north Norfolk is one of the most picturesque and captivating areas of Britain.
But the district's popularity has inadvertently created an affordable housing crisis.
The rise of second home ownership is pushing up house prices and leading to many young people and families being forced out of the communities they call home. Steps are being taken by the district and town councils, housing associations, charities and north Norfolk's MP to tackle the problem.
House prices in parts of north Norfolk have risen by as much as 50pc over the last 10 years, while wages have remained stagnant.
North Norfolk has the fourth highest number of second-owned homes in the country, almost 10pc, which makes it impossible for many people to buy a home in their own community and too expensive to rent.
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As a result, many families are forced out as incoming retired buyers and holiday lets push house prices further out of their reach.
There are nearly 6,000 affordable homes in north Norfolk, but a desperate need for more.
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Social landlord Victory Housing Trust's chief executive John Archibald said: 'This year we will spend about £17.5m on new homes, which equates to 190 affordable homes, and us spending about £47,000 a day.
'You could build 2,000 new homes tomorrow and they would all be filled. Most commentators describe it as a housing crisis - I don't think that's underplaying it. Keeping young people in north Norfolk is a challenge.
'The average house price in north Norfolk is about £240,000 which is 12 times the average annual salary, £20,000, and second homes reduce the supply.
'We are currently building homes in Bacton, Fakenham and Sheringham. There's been a perfect storm in that people cannot buy homes or afford to rent. There are a stack of things that make the district a hotspot.'
One of the worst affected towns is Wells where almost a third of all homes are second homes.
Wells Town Council recently wrote to North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) and the Holkham Estate in the hope of working together to tackle the affordable housing crisis.
Mr Lamb has called the situation 'ludicrous' and said that countless people contacted him in real housing need.
'The council ends up only able to house the crisis cases but if you are simply in need of a home close to your family you don't stand much chance,' he said.
NNDC supports the creation of affordable homes by using S106 planning agreements, through identifying strategic housing needs and the Community Housing Fund of £2.4m for 2016/17.
Richard Price, the council's cabinet member for housing, said: 'We work with a range of developers to provide more affordable homes; we are committed to providing affordable housing and ensuring there are homes for local people.
'In the past year 83 affordable homes have been created thanks to the work of the district council.'
John Lefever, Hastoe Housing Association east regional development director, said: 'It is important that districts such as north Norfolk look to build more affordable housing – to rent as well as to buy – to provide opportunities for small communities to remain viable.'
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to ensure money generated by second home owners in north Norfolk is used to benefit local communities.
Second home owners previously only paid 50pc of their council tax, but this was changed to 95pc by NNDC.
There are more than 430 second homes in Cromer and the town council passed a motion on October 25 calling for legislative change to enable better funding for services provided to permanent residents in areas with a high proportion of second and holiday homes.
Town councillor Phil Harris said: 'The idea is to look at the money collected as council tax, and for that money to go back to where it was collected. At the moment there's no guarantee it will go back to that area. The government is looking at this and we should be one of the councils leading on it.'
The motion, which could benefit similar communities across the country, has been sent to the Department of Communities and Local Government.
Desperate need for affordable homes
There are nearly 6,000 affordable homes in North Norfolk, but a desperate need for more.
The affordable housing provision in the district consists of 561 sheltered homes, 140 homes for shared ownership and 5,214 general need homes plus 71 homes provided as Housing with Care – that's 5,986 affordable homes in North Norfolk.
Many are in coastal villages, but in key towns this breaks down to 668 in Fakenham, 288 in Wells, 1,012 in North Walsham, 258 in Stalham, 483 in Cromer, and 281 in Holt.
Although North Norfolk is a hotspot for the affordable housing crisis, the problem is felt in other parts of the region.
A summit was held at Gressenhall Farm, near Dereham, on October 13 to tackle the lack of affordable homes in rural communities.
Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman jointly hosted the half-day event, which was convened by The Norfolk Way, a non-profit group founded by Mr Freeman, in partnership with Hastoe.
Homes For Wells
From its launch in 2006, the charity Homes for Wells has worked to create enough affordable properties for key workers and local people with family connections in the town.
Its award-winning Old School project, which was completed in 2015, brought in 17 affordable housing properties under management, and its ambition now is to prepare for significant growth in its portfolio.
Chairman David Fennell said: 'The problem of the lack of affordable housing seems to be growing. In Wells more than 31pc of homes are holiday lets.
'We are in talks with NNDC, which was given funding to help push community development looking at small organisations to put forward bids. People say their children are leaving the area because they cannot afford to stay in the town. We try and help people with families and in key work such as fishing in the town. We aim to have more projects in the future.'
Case study - Caitlin Finan picked up the key to her new home earlier this year
Caitlin Finan and her two year-old son Alfie, along with their dog Jessie, had been living in one room at her mother's house and had been on the housing list for just over a year, when they got their new affordable home earlier this year.
When she received the keys, Ms Finan said: 'It's really good to have my independence and feel like I'm doing things for myself finally.
'The house is really lovely – as soon as I saw it I really wanted it. I'm really looking forward to making it a home.'
Ms Finan was one of the four new owners picking up keys to four new affordable homes in Burnham Market from Victory Housing Trust.
The homes at Sandells Walk represented a £567,000 investment by the housing trust, which was offering a two-bedroom house and a three-bedroom house for rent, and two two-bedroom houses offered for shared ownership.