New housing bid could pave way so locals aren't priced out of areas
- Credit: Supplied by the developer
A housing scheme in north Norfolk is attempting to address concerns about local families being priced out of the area by giving them first refusal on the properties.
The project involves 24 affordable houses in north Norfolk, an area with a large proportion of second homes and holidays lets where locals have previously raised concerns about the difficulty of renting or buying.
As part of the planning application, developers Hollands Sheringham Ltd have pledged that the 24 new homes in the West Wood development in Sheringham's Weybourne Road, will first be offered to people with a family, historic or employment link to the town.
Now the local MP, headteachers and business leaders are saying this needs to set an example for other housing projects in the area.
Duncan Baker, North Norfolk MP, has written in support of the application, calling it an "innovative and crucial step" in addressing housing need.
In a letter to North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), he said: "With more and more Sheringham housing being sold as second homes, Airbnb letting and generally unaffordable private rental or sale stock, West Wood will deliver the single largest affordable units built in the town over the past 30 years."
According to the district council, North Norfolk has the second-highest rate of second and holiday homes in the country, with 6,697 (11.6pc of total housing stock) second homes registered in the district in 2020.
In Wells, for example, more than a third of the properties are in the hands of second homeowners.
Alongside this come increased house prices that can force out locals. Wells’ properties are more than 14 times the average household income.
James Stanbrook, headteacher at Sheringham Woodfields School, is among those calling for more schemes like West Wood.
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“There was a recent poll of Norfolk’s headteachers and one of the major issues was recruitment of staff and this is especially true in an area like North Norfolk, where many adults are retired," he said.
“Round here the issue is housing and the high cost that stops people coming here.
“Employers like ourselves really struggle, many of my staff have to travel from quite far away.
“When we advertise it doesn’t tend to be local people applying it tends to be people from further away.”
Mr Stanbrook said the issue, which affects all staffing levels, becomes one of trying to keep people on who may find a job more conveniently located closer to home.
Of its population of 105,800, North Norfolk has the second-lowest proportion of people of working age (16 to 64 years) in the entire UK, at 53pc.
And NNDC is now facing a backlog of more than 2,500 applicants on the council’s housing register.
At Woodfields, Mr Stanbrook said they were seeing fewer applications for positions each time.
He added: “You accept more children into the school and you want to do what’s best for them but you can’t get the staff so it puts more pressure on everyone else.
“Everyone has to start somewhere on the housing ladder and that is often renting so there need to be more initiatives like West Wood if we are going to have a thriving economy.”
In a letter to NNDC supporting the West Wood development, a spokesperson for the Hempstead Road Business Centre echoed the concerns, saying the development was needed "before it's too late".
“This area will continue to struggle to find labour to support the local businesses and services the second homeowners and holidaymakers want and need if the local working population has all migrated inland,” the spokesperson said.
And it is not just an issue affecting North Norfolk.
In May, West Norfolk Council decided to put a covenant on homes it is developing in Hunstanton – a legal agreement saying the homes will be sold to local people, preventing them from being used as second homes or holiday lets.
The West Wood development has received one objection to date, but it was unrelated to affordable homes.
A St Austins Grove resident argued it was in a protected area and consideration was needed on its distance to undefended cliffs.