Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I welcome so much of this levelling up Bill. I will address my comments to the housing issues in my beautiful constituency, which I know are reflected across rural and coastal constituencies around the country. I would also like to take this opportunity to put on the record my thanks to the Minister for letting me repeat myself time and time again, and for his constant engagement on this matter. I very much hope that, as the Bill makes its passage through the House, I might be able to persuade him to consider what, to my mind, is currently missing from it.
The peninsular of Devon and Cornwall has seen an explosion in short-term holiday lets and second home ownership, particularly since the start of the pandemic. We recognise the importance of our tourism economy, but our housing market is now simply out of balance. We just do not have homes for people to live in if they work locally. The affordability issues already spoken about by other colleagues from Devon are replicated even more so in North Devon, where we have the second fastest growing house prices in the country, with a rise of over 22% this year alone. Put simply, wages are not keeping up. Since 2016, Devon has seen 4,000 homes come out of private rent and 11,000 join the short-term holiday listings. As of today in Ilfracombe, a rural and coastal town with a population of 12,000, there is one long-term rental available on Rightmove, but if people would like to come on holiday there this June, there are 560 available options. That imbalance is simply unsustainable for us.
The demand for social housing in rural communities is growing six times faster than the rate of supply. At current rates, the backlog of low-income families needing accommodation will take 121 years to clear. We need to find other ways to enable people to build houses and for local people to move into them.
I am pleased that my Lib Dem council has finally started taking some action today, as it does have tools in its toolbox. I first wrote to it more than a year ago, so it is a delight that it is starting to tackle the issue of the derelict properties that are scattered across my constituency. However, so much more still needs to be done.
There is far too much leeway for homes to be built without meeting affordability needs, and in order to address the problem of vacant and second homes, additional planning measures are needed. Although the council tax changes are welcome, they will not be sufficient and are already incurring unintended consequences. I very much hope that a new clause can be added to the Bill to require planning permission to change homes from other tenures into short-term tenancies and holiday accommodation.
The Secretary of State spoke about creating neighbourhoods, not dormitories. We need to create communities in which people who work locally can also afford to live. At present, we are at risk of becoming just a winter ghost town.