Long-term Plan for Housing

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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On my hon. Friend’s second point, absolutely. On his first point, I will read the footnote to paragraph 1.81 of the NPPF:

“The availability of agricultural land used for food production should be considered”.

I hope that is helpful.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for much of today’s announcement. In seats such as mine, it does not really matter what the target is when such a high proportion of the homes that are built are just used as short-term holiday lets. This time a year ago, we agreed to another consultation, which finished this June. I ask again: when might we have the results of that consultation and steps to ensure that, when we build homes in communities such as mine, those homes are affordable for the people who live and work there?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend not just for her question, which gives us only a few seconds to talk about the matter, but for her Adjournment debate a few days ago, when we had a much longer period to talk about it. She makes a very important point; I know how important it is to colleagues in the south-east and elsewhere and, although I am not able to give her a date today, I hope to have more on that very soon.

Housing Availability: Ilfracombe

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Monday 11th December 2023

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Scott Mann.)8.53 pm
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I am very proud to be Ilfracombe’s MP. It is a tight-knit resilient community of 12,000, and so remote that it has to be self-sufficient. It is 12 miles from Barnstaple, the major town in northern Devon, and almost 60 miles from Devon’s county town, the city of Exeter. At the start of the pandemic, it made national news by being the first community to fully develop a delivery and support network across the town, and the community continues to look after its own and all those who visit.

Ilfracombe is both rural and coastal, with a stunning harbour, a hardy fishing fleet and its own lifeboat station reflecting the treacherous coastline and rugged cliffs. It is one of those seaside towns that were popular with the Victorians but then got cut off with the closure of the train line in the ’70s. It has suffered from under-investment ever since. Tourism remains the No. 1 industry of the town. This creates its own challenges, with many small businesses choosing not to register for VAT and closing at the £85,000 threshold, leaving swathes of employees in seasonal work and on out-of-season benefits.

However, Ilfracombe is not a low-wage economy; it is a low-skill economy. Some 20% of over-16s have no qualifications at all, often leading big employers in the town to recruit internationally and break down jobs into those that match the skills. We see far too many of our bright youngsters head off to university, never to return. The south-west suffers from a youth exodus, with the highest number of 16 to 24-year-olds and the highest number of students leaving of any region. That has implications for those left behind.

School attainment gaps in the south-west between poorer pupils and the rest are the largest of all English regions at the end of both primary and secondary school, and that is not to mention the recruitment, retention and training challenges that exist for isolated and remote schools and the lower levels of school funding and teacher pay. Ilfracombe has the second biggest catchment of any secondary school in the country, with absenteeism running at 10%, which is a similar number to the percentage of people in Ilfracombe who have never worked and will never work at all.

Deprivation runs deep in Ilfracombe. As foreign holidays became the norm, old hotels became homes in multiple occupation. Ilfracombe even featured in the ’80s comedy show “Bread” as somewhere to move to, and some of those old hotels became care settings for those with addictions and no housing elsewhere in the country to be moved to. We have wards in Ilfracombe where over a quarter of the population are registered disabled under the terms of the Equality Act 2010. The town is still littered with derelict buildings and has 20 large buildings unoccupied. They are falling down and intermittently one is burnt to the ground. Surely there must be more that can be done to tackle these derelict buildings and bring them back into use.

Ilfracombe has the lowest healthy life expectancy of any rural town in the country, and a life expectancy over a decade below that of the healthiest towns in Devon. There are not big queues for healthcare in Ilfracombe. People often do not even present, despite lifestyle choices contributing to poor health. There is an acceptance that things are good enough, but they are not. I have attended more meetings on the issues of deprivation and health inequalities in Ilfracombe than I care to list. People care deeply about the issues in the town but solutions are hard to come by, which is why I have come to the Chamber to ask the Minister and his Department to help.

We were elected on a manifesto of levelling up, and on any metric whatsoever Ilfracombe clearly needs to be levelled up, yet the resources to tackle the root cause of the problem are not forthcoming. Having seen endless pieces of analysis, I know that the primary issue is shockingly poor housing. Some 37% of the population in Ilfracombe rent, and given that we have no university students, that is staggeringly high. Post pandemic, house prices have jumped by 53%, which is one of the highest rates in the country. That is understandable, as it is a beautiful place to live, but suffice it to say that wages have not increased by the same levels. We have lost almost two thirds of long-term rentals, mostly to short-term holiday lets, and far too many of the remaining rental properties are substandard. The council is apparently powerless to intervene unless there is something like a fire, and the pictures that I have circulated to the Department of the conditions that families are living in are unacceptable.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I commend the hon. Lady for bringing this debate forward; I spoke to her beforehand and I understand the issues clearly. She has outlined the issues of tourism, fishing and youth unemployment in north Devon, and now the issue of housing. As a representative of the small harbour village of Portavogie in my constituency of Strangford, I fully understand the pressure of finding affordable housing in these little communities. Does she not agree that social housing in rural communities must be a priority to enable people to remain with the family support that they have and the friendships they have made over the years?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will talk about affordable housing and, as he represents a coastal constituency, I am sure he will recognise what I am about to say.

Storms batter the North Devon coastline at this time of year, and old hotels shabbily converted into flats, some with no insulation, are taking the elements week after week and should be condemned, but the last thing we need is even more derelict buildings that no one will do anything with.

Because Ilfracombe is only a small part of North Devon, the metrics used to determine where the first round of levelling-up funding was spent meant that we were in the lowest category, and our tiny district council did not have lots of potential bids ready to go for Ilfracombe. A strong bid was submitted, although it was ultimately unsuccessful, but we all knew it was not going to level up Ilfracombe; it was just to secure some funding.

At the time, a senior council officer raised the issue of housing and what was really needed, but the levelling-up funds were all about transport and tourism, not housing. I am grateful to the new chief executive of Devon County Council who, arriving this spring from the remote and rural highlands, saw the deprivation in my constituency, and she was in my office weeks after her appointment to ask what was going on with Ilfracombe. Since her arrival and renewed focus, more councillors and council officers than ever before have headed north of Tiverton and made it up to Ilfracombe to see the problem. I am the only MP on the Devon Housing Commission, which has also visited.

It is hard to reconcile the fact that we are not worthy of levelling up, when we have 50 families looking at their second Christmas in a holiday park because there is not a single home available for them in northern Devon. Indeed, not a single affordable home has been built in Ilfracombe since 2006. The first are now under construction but, as another district council leader said during the presentation of these facts to the Devon Housing Commission, “Is this not a dereliction of duty?” Indeed it is.

Although our tiny district council knows that there is a problem, it does not have the resource to deliver a solution. At the end of the pandemic, my county council told me that my constituency was home to five of the 10 most deprived wards in all of Devon. My question was, “What are you going to do?” It is only with the new chief executive’s arrival that a proposal has been forthcoming. Six costed proposals, with different elements to tackle housing and skills, are with the Department.

I am grateful to the previous Levelling-up Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), for visiting Ilfracombe and meeting the council, and I am grateful for the engagement of the current Levelling-up Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young). I very much hope that the promised meeting will deliver a plan as, quite simply, North Devon and Ilfracombe do not have the resource to resolve the housing situation on their own.

My frustration at the multiple tiers of local government, which have resulted in so much talking and so little delivery, is great. We simply have to tackle some of the housing issues in the town before we can tackle the others. I am delighted that a family hub for the town will be forthcoming. On average, because Devon County Council covers a huge area, many things in Devon look fine, or at least not bad, which hides pockets of deep deprivation in places like Ilfracombe, and we have missed out on far too many schemes and pots of money because the average looks fine but does not take into account the variance across the county.

Will the new devolution deal deliver anything to Ilfracombe? Unfortunately, time and again, we see money going to urban centres and not reaching smaller communities that are equally in need. Liberal Democrat-run North Devon District Council is apparently able to deliver only one project at a time. I had the pleasure of spending Friday morning with the council leader, who explained why the bus station in Barnstaple could not be upgraded because the council is too busy with the future high street project to tackle a second issue. I have confidence in the council officers, if not the political leadership, to understand what needs to be done, but there is a resourcing issue of both people and finance.

If we need to attract external funding to tackle some of these housing challenges, we do not have the experience of managing such projects well. We desperately need responsible social landlords to take on some of the properties in Ilfracombe, bring them up to standard and maintain them. Again, when will there be progress on the registration scheme for short-term rentals? Will the Minister ask the Treasury to level up the tax inequalities between long-term and short-term rentals to attract long-term landlords back to the market? All that happens at present is that we seem to get more retirement properties, second homes and properties being snapped up as holiday lets. As of yesterday, there were 19 rental properties in Ilfracombe being advertised on Rightmove and 803 on Airbnb.

The Minister has told me that there is not a fund that my council’s bid can be accepted into at this time, but given that deep dives have been done into other seaside locations that replicate Ilfracombe’s position, just on a far bigger scale, is there really no opportunity to look hard at these small coastal communities and the challenges they face? My father was head of a large coastal comprehensive in the middle of a council estate back in the 1980s, and the issues he faced there were identical to the ones I faced in North Devon when I retrained to teach, just ahead of my election to this place. We have to tackle social mobility and educational outcomes, but when people cannot afford to stay in their community because of a lack of affordable housing, and businesses have no incentive to grow because of the VAT tax threshold, it is hard to drive aspiration as a concept. The frustration that the Government are spending money overseas to house people who come to our shores illegally when we cannot house our own is immense. All I ask is that some resource is given to tackle what are shocking statistics at any level and leave Ilfracombe as the third most deprived rural town anywhere in the country. We know from so many pieces of research the stats on coastal communities, and we must seek to level up some of these smaller communities that are not big enough to stand out in national statistics.

Levelling up was supposed to reach into all communities, not just big towns and cities. I am very proud of the Ilfracombe community. It is has fantastic church and community leaders who work tirelessly to try to tackle the issues the town faces and look after their population. However, given the long-term, intergenerational nature of the issues, and the level of investment needed, we do need some help. Now that we have a plan to tackle issues, we are a step further forward than we were when I first raised the issues of Ilfracombe in this place. I see no point in trying to make political points out of this; for almost 20 years, nothing has been done, by councils of all different colours, to tackle the problem. The Government have highlighted the need to level up, and I very much want the next generation to be able to afford to stay and work in the high-tech green industries that we hope will be coming ashore along our coast. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to provide some hope that we may at last be able to tackle some of the root causes of the deprivation Ilfracombe suffers and, in particular, tackle its housing supply.

Housing in Tourist Destinations

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 28th November 2023

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) for securing this important debate. As always, I agree entirely with him; our constituencies share so many characteristics—although I do dispute where the best tourist destination is.

North Devon has wonderful beaches, the UK’s only surf reserve, remote moorlands and beautiful countryside. It is unsurprising that there is high demand to live in what the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities called a “very attractive” part of the country. The trend accelerated during and after the pandemic, particularly with the stamp duty incentives that enabled many to purchase additional homes by the coast. We are incredibly proud of our tourism sector, which contributes significantly to our local economy. The hospitality sector contributes £229 million and helps to employ more than 8,000 residents in North Devon.

That is all positive news for our economy, but it takes a toll on our housing market. When I talk to business owners in North Devon, they tell me that one of their biggest challenges is staffing, and that the main reason why is the lack of affordable housing that is available for local people to live in all year round. That sentiment is relayed to me across all sectors. Teachers cannot afford to live in the same areas as the schools they teach in, and with property prices more than 10 times higher than average incomes, health and social care workers in particular have little hope of being able to buy or rent a place to live. Even high-earning professions such as dentistry are affected, as demonstrated by the company mydentist being unable to recruit despite offering a £20,000 golden handshake to entice dentists to move into the area.

Housing is the root cause of so many problems in North Devon. I will not say it is a magic wand, but if we freed up and delivered new housing supply, it would allow people to live, work and, most importantly, play a part in the community that they grew up in.

I have spoken before about how the planning system does not account for or factor in the challenges that face rural communities, but I want to focus on a particular problem that is acute in tourist destinations: short-term holiday lets and Airbnbs. In North Devon we have seen a 67% drop in the availability of long-term rentals since the end of the pandemic. Swathes of landlords have evicted their tenants from long-term homes to flip them into short-term lets, and they continue to do so. This week it was reported that the rate of section 21 evictions in Devon was higher than last year.

I know that short-term lets and Airbnbs bring a range of benefits to our tourism economy, but they really have affected the availability and affordability of local rental housing and have inevitably inflated house prices. We must rebalance our housing market so that local people can live and work in the area. I know that the issue of short-term lets will involve cross-Department collaboration; to rebalance the long and short-term rental market, we urgently need to look at the taxation inequalities between those two sectors that were introduced by George Osborne and came fully into effect during the pandemic.

I place so much emphasis on short-term lets because they are properties that would otherwise be let to local people for them to live in all year round. At this time of year, so many of them are empty, creating ghost communities. We have started to make strides with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023, and I welcome the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s consultation on a registration scheme for short-term lets, which is a crucial first step for communities to have their say on the availability of housing to rent or buy in their local area. However, I join colleagues by asking, as with so many consultations, what is happening now? I know the consultation has been completed, and my understanding is that there was much support for a scheme, which is now long overdue despite being supported by the industry.

Fundamentally, there needs to be an increase in housing overall, but not just any housing. Indeed, I oppose housing targets because North Devon had built to target, but there is still nowhere affordable for anyone to live. The current preferred design for local housing seems to be massive executive homes, which push property prices ever higher. Communities cannot function without carers, teachers, doctors and nurses, yet they are being forced out because there is simply nowhere for them to live. It is not right that families are about to spend their second Christmas in a holiday park because of the lack of homes.

When the Devon housing commission visited, it observed that we have net migration of retired people into North Devon, and the housing that is built also reflects that trend. Indeed, why would people not want to retire somewhere so stunning? But that puts further pressure on public services, which struggle to fill vacancies due to the housing situation. Yes, we need to build more houses, but the crisis is urgent and we need quick solutions.

There are existing derelict buildings that could be converted into housing. There are liveable areas above shops that could be converted into flats, but that has been stopped because of an 84-year flood risk. People need housing now and every option should be looked into, as the situation will only get worse without intervention. Given this opportunity, I commend to the Minister my council’s Ilfracombe proposal. In North Devon, we are at risk of creating a cross between a care home and a holiday park, and we do not have the staff for either. Tourism is essential to our economy, but it cannot be at the expense of local people finding a home. We can and must find a balance.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (in the Chair)
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Sorry, but I have to drop the time limit to five minutes. I call Tim Farron.

Renewable Energy Providers: Planning Considerations

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Wednesday 25th October 2023

(4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) on securing this important debate.

I have a specific project that I wish to speak about today. I established and chair the all-party parliamentary group for the Celtic sea, and I have championed floating offshore wind, or FLOW, projects across the Celtic sea, working collaboratively with developers, ports, MPs and associated businesses right around the Devon, Cornwall and south Wales coast. I therefore find myself in a particularly difficult position, as are my constituents, on the proposed White Cross wind farm in my North Devon constituency. This project is 80 MW, so it is only a demonstrator project, and it has secured a distribution-level grid connection at Yelland. Given its scale, it has avoided being a national infrastructure project, and decisions about its development now lie with the Marine Management Organisation, which is under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the local planning authority.

The local community is hugely supportive of FLOW. Although there are some environmental concerns about the six proposed turbines, it is the cable corridor that is proving highly controversial. I have been expressing my concerns about the proposed cable route ever since the project came to light. The route submitted to the planning authority involves tunnelling through several miles of sand dunes, a large seaside car park, holiday chalets, a golf course and possibly a world war two munitions dump, and it will take several years to construct. The quickest route to the plug-in point at Yelland is across Crow Point, a very active sand system and highly designated sand dune complex. Although that route is potentially more environmentally contested, it would cause far less damage to hospitality businesses in a constituency that is dependent on its tourism economy. No one has been able to explain to me who decided on the cable corridor, and both the MMO and the local authority advise that they have no influence and cannot comment on whether a better corridor might exist.

White Cross is owned by Flotation Energy, which has recently been taken over by the Japanese company TEPCO. As somebody in the industry observed last night:

“Their website is a disgrace. There is no contact details for anyone within the company. Just a generic reply section. Very poor and unacceptable. They are taking advantage of the consenting regime because they are under 100 MW. Compared to the work done on other projects it is a joke.”

Other developers have fallen over themselves to engage with the APPG, which works cross-party and cross-Government, but not White Cross. I would like to put on the record my wish to meet TEPCO, and for it to explain why it is bulldozing its project through our community.

One of the objectives of the APPG for the Celtic sea has been to co-ordinate a more strategic approach to this new region of offshore renewables, to avoid some of the cable issues seen on the east coast. The APPG’s preference throughout has been to establish a single cable corridor to Devon and Cornwall, and one to south Wales, in order to reduce sea floor damage, as well as cabling onshore as the bigger projects go out to sea. The project, which is ready to bid for a contract, will connect to Pembroke, and I know that the cable corridor there has been well managed, and that landowners have been fully consulted. Local landowners are being threatened with compulsory purchase orders, and businesses were not consulted or advised until the planning application was submitted. Councillors are completely at sea when it comes to dealing with this type of planning application.

Additionally, the project is now taking up almost the entire time of one planning officer, in an area where planning is the biggest factor slowing down commercial development and the building of the homes we so desperately need. I hear that the planning department apparently does not have any planning grounds to reject the application. Any support that the Minister’s team can provide to the council and councillors on planning would be most welcome.

I have spoken with the MMO and it also does not believe it that it has grounds to reject the application, or the ability to challenge it. It appears that the developer has been able to choose a cable route of their suiting, without any agreement with the local community or the bodies that provide the planning and leasing.

My concerns are multiple. There are only two potential grid plug-ins along the north Devon coast, and these are vital national infrastructure resources at this time—Yelland and Alverdiscott. My understanding is that Yelland is smaller, but I have been unable to speak to National Grid ahead of today to clarify whether the White Cross development will completely utilise the capacity at Yelland. The concern is that it will not.

My view, and that of many in my constituency, is this: if we have to endure this level of disruption to get a cable corridor installed on land, does the development maximise the potential of the Yelland socket? There is growing concern that the developers have chosen a scale that avoids being classed as a national infrastructure project and the scrutiny that would come with it. That may mean that the socket is not optimised.

I have asked White Cross why it could not work with the other projects in the region and consider Alverdiscott for its cable. I was advised that it is too far and therefore too expensive. If a strategic view of cable corridors was taken, the costs might be reduced, but I do not believe that this has even been considered.

I recognise that Alverdiscott has had concerns about the situation it finds itself in as a hub for plugging in huge renewable projects. It is vital that communities that are asked to host this sort of infrastructure are properly compensated. White Cross does not seem to have offered any community reimbursement, as recommended in the report by the electricity networks commissioner, Nick Winser.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, and I agree with a lot of what she is saying. As she is talking about compensation, will she explain what compensation would be adequate?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Please do not think that this is a nimby issue. North Devon is home to the Fullabrook wind farm, which, when it was built, was the largest onshore wind farm in the country, at 66 MW. The project established Fullabrook CIC—community interest company—which was set up with £1 million from the then owners of the wind farm. It has now given over £1.58 million for community projects and receives £100,000 per annum from the current owners. I find it bewildering that White Cross has seemingly made no offer of community involvement. Indeed, its only offer is to decimate huge sections of coastline for its own financial gain.

I am gravely concerned that White Cross is not acting in any way appropriately with this development, and is taking advantage of the planning system, which it has chosen to use. I strongly believe that the entire Celtic sea FLOW project should be considered as one national infrastructure project. That would enable proper strategic planning and ensure that we hit our offshore wind targets, and that communities are included in decisions and appropriately recompensed for hosting infrastructure.

It is increasingly possible that the development will undermine all the support for FLOW that has been generated along this coastline. Hundreds of objections have been lodged, and further meetings are planned by local parishes in the coming weeks. It seems that the developers have carte blanche. As someone who is hugely supportive of the renewable opportunities ahead of us—as is my constituency—I ask that steps are taken to find a way through this cross-departmental maze to have this development withdrawn in its current form; that a better plan for the cabling is devised; that the Yelland socket is optimised, if used; and that the community across North Devon are properly consulted and recompensed for hosting this infrastructure.

With energy security so critical, alongside reaching net zero, surely we can devise a better way to install just six wind turbines, so that we can progress more quickly with these crucial infrastructure projects, with community support and transparency.

--- Later in debate ---
John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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Denying “our goal”, “our God”—I believe it is the hon. Lady’s God, certainly. She is right that it is important that what we do in respect of energy, which I spend a great deal more time thinking about than she ever has, needs to reflect a balance. Everyone who understands energy provision knows that renewables can and should be an important part of an energy mix. Yet they are not nirvana for all kinds of reasons—we need the flexibility provided by the kinds of energy provision that can be switched on and off, in a way that solar and wind cannot—but it is vital that we invest in renewable technology.

That is why, for example, I have been a passionate supporter of offshore wind, which is a very effective way of generating energy in a way that does less harm to the environment than onshore wind, which the hon. Lady champions. That essentially means littering the countryside with small numbers of turbines, which are much less productive, much less concentrated and with countless connections to the grid. That greatly increases transmission and distribution costs, which already represent 15% of every energy bill. It is both economically foolish and environmentally damaging to site wind turbines in presumably thousands of locations across the country, when we can concentrate large numbers of much larger turbines offshore, producing much more energy, with a single point of connection to the grid.

There is a similar situation with solar. I imagine that the hon. Member for Bath will know, as others may, that in Germany a much higher proportion of solar power is located on buildings. In this country, our record is very poor, and I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I would be interested to know what further steps he intends to take to incentivise, indeed oblige, adding solar panels to buildings. Warehouses are springing up all over the country, but I do not see a solar panel on any of them. There are large numbers of industrial sites, commercial sites and all kinds of other places where we could have solar panels.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. As someone who represents a hugely rural community, I would like to ask this about solar panels. Does he agree that farmers need to be farming, that we face a food security crisis and that we need our land to be productive for food, and that rooftops are indeed the right place to put solar panels?

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. That brings me to—I do not know whether my hon. Friend anticipated this by a kind of telepathy or just through her wisdom—the next point that I intended to make. Recent worldwide events have taught us of the need for national economic resilience. We are moving to a post-liberal age—thankfully—when we will no longer take the view that we can buy whatever we want from wherever we want and it does not matter how much is produced locally or how far supply lines are extended.

We know that domestic production and manufacture of goods and food is vital for our resilience and security; in order to have that, we need to preserve the best agricultural land to grow the crops that we need. If people were really worried about the environment, they would have thought these things through a little more fully and so understand that shortening supply lines reduces the number of air miles and, indeed, road miles between where food is made and where it is consumed—as we once did—rather than extending supply lines endlessly, with the immense cost to the environment and in every other way. We need more domestic production, but to have more domestic production we must recognise that there should be no industrial solar or wind developments on grade 1, 2 or 3 agricultural land, yet that is exactly what is proposed.

Renters (Reform) Bill

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Two of the less conspicuous but important parts of the Bill are the creation of the property portal and the role of the private rented sector ombudsman. If they work effectively, both should obviate the need for the court processes that the Chair of the Select Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) have mentioned. The property portal should ensure that we can identify properties in the private rented sector whose landlords have not registered, and we can focus our enforcement action on them.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I welcome better protections for renters; in my constituency, swathes of constituents have been evicted so that landlords can flip their properties to become short-term holiday lets. Nationally, there may have been a growth in landlord numbers, but the Country Land and Business Association and the English housing survey both report that rural seats have seen a demise in landlord numbers of about 24%. In my constituency, we have lost 67% of our long-term landlords since the end of the pandemic. What steps will be taken to reverse the trend, so that long-term landlords come back into constituencies such as mine?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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What I would like to see in my hon. Friend’s constituency and so many others is an increase in housing overall—houses for social rent, for private rent and, above all, for people to own. As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) pointed out, there is a particular challenge in the very attractive parts of the country, such as those my hon. Friend represents, that attract tourism.

There has been a phenomenon whereby houses that would have been available for rent to the local community have been Airbnb-ised, although not just through that company. They have been turned into short-term lets and effectively been operating as shadow B&Bs or shadow hotels. There is nothing wrong—there is everything right—with making sure that we utilise property as efficiently as possible, but that has created percussive and deleterious consequences in some areas. That is why we are consulting on both using the planning system and also, with our colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, a form of registration to ensure that the situation works. Ultimately, however, the challenge is increasing supply overall.

New Housing Supply

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Monday 5th June 2023

(8 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for this important debate. North Devon presents challenges consistent with those in many tourist destinations for delivering new housing alongside retaining our existing housing for local residents. The planning system is not designed for rurality. North Devon is remote, and with a lack of planners, builders and materials, we build at just 18% affordable units due to viability concerns. The local plan has mostly delivered the targeted number of houses, but we still have nothing like the number of affordable homes we need. Everything takes an eternity, and far too often the affordable element is cut out of developments. Brownfield sites—particularly derelict buildings—lie empty for years, if not decades, while stuck in planning disputes, often relating to retaining late-listed façades that are not valuable enough to warrant historical investment schemes yet render them unviable for development.

Fortunately, the five-year land supply is now back intact, but that has taken three years, and numerous developments on beautiful green fields have been waved through due to this situation. Also, the rapid switching by landlords, after the Osborne tax reforms that came in during the pandemic, from long-term rentals to short-term holiday lets means that we have lost 67% of our long-term rentals post-pandemic. Moving to North Devon for work or being able to afford to buy at all is just not viable in one of the fastest rising house price regions in the country. This leaves us with a housing “crisis”—a word I do not use lightly. Hopefully there will be some light on the horizon with accommodation being the next phase of development on our hospital site, as health and social care are the sectors that are worst impacted by the current housing crisis, closely followed by the other emergency services and our schools.

Solutions are hard to come by, but building on endless green fields to tackle the situation in North Devon—which has unique challenges, being highly designated and prized for its remote beauty—is not popular or, to my mind, the least bit desirable. We need a more strategic and better resourced planning system for all of Devon. Our small district councils almost have a rotating door policy of planners moving from one council to another for a better position or a final stop before retirement. I do not blame them, because there is nowhere nicer to retire, but we need an extended and enhanced planning team that proactively wants to deal with the derelict buildings scattered across my constituency. They include empty hotels in Ilfracombe, a care home in Instow, and the former lace factory and the Oliver buildings in Barnstaple, alongside the redevelopment of the old leisure centre.

Numerous empty properties are scattered around, yet in the past week alone my inbox has seen planning applications for properties above shops in Barnstaple town centre turned down as it might flood in 84 years’ time. Locally, the council could reverse the planning restrictions it has placed on properties that, when built, were only allowed to be holiday homes when the owners would now prefer to move to permanent residential. Surely that is to be encouraged, but no, the owners face an endless series of hurdles, from being told they have to sell the property to installing all sorts of extra measures just so that a barn can be converted for a child to live in, although that child is now an adult. But they can convert a holiday let with no problems at all. It is no wonder that developers struggle to build in North Devon. Even when they do, it is easier to build holiday lets than permanent residences, as borne out across endless farms. For small villages, community land trusts need to be simplified, with learnings from rural communities more widely shared. Again, delays in planning mean it is months and months before any response is forthcoming for even pre-application work.

When we do build, we need to ensure that properties are available to local families who want to live and work in North Devon. Far too many properties are sold as holiday lets. We have to take some responsibility as a community if we want to remain a community and not become a cross between a holiday park and a nursing home, with no staff to service either.

I would not mind an additional town, but I am not thinking of Milton Keynes. A town the size of my third biggest town, 4,000 to 5,000 residents, within commuting distance of Exeter, adjacent to the link road, may be an option. Unless we can sort out our strategic planning so that there is public transport and proper facilities, such as health, education, water—we already have a hosepipe ban—and a road network that is fit for purpose, we will struggle to deliver the houses that our community so desperately needs.

First and foremost, we should use the properties we have more effectively. Since being elected to this place, I have campaigned relentlessly on tackling the exponential increase in holiday lets in North Devon. Yes, we love our tourists and warmly welcome folk from all over the world, but our housing market is out of kilter. There are now not enough homes to enable people to live and work in our vital tourism economy. We need: to expedite plans for registers of holiday lets; to introduce planning changes for properties to move from long-term to short-term rentals; to reverse the Osborne tax changes or, at the very least, to ensure an even tax playing field between long-term and short-term rentals; and to ensure there is not a discrepancy within schemes such as energy performance certificates, which are designed to protect tenants but, in old, rural properties, are increasing the flood of landlords exiting the long-term rental market to a tidal wave.

If our housing stock were utilised more of the time, we might not need to build so much. I rent on a close of fewer than 30 houses, where one has been derelict for more than 15 years and almost half are second homes, often left empty for three-quarters of the year or more. These are two or three beds-up, two-down homes, and the latest to be valued, at £575,000, is out of reach for most locals. Is there no way that some of these properties, empty for so much of the year, could be made available to our invaluable public sector workers?

We cannot allow our coastal communities to become ghost towns for much of the year, and I hope more will be done to utilise more effectively the buildings that are already standing, and to improve our strategic planning to tackle and rebalance our housing market.

Short-term Holiday Lets: Planning

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd May 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered short-term holiday lets and the planning system.

Let me start by thanking my colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to schedule the debate and the Members from across the House who agreed to support my application. I also want to thank Parliament’s participation and digital teams, who helped to ensure that those who signed relevant petitions were aware of the debate and helped to gather evidence of the impact of the issue across the UK.

The issues with our housing supply do not have any simple resolution or magic bullet solution. Many factors need to be considered and approaches need to be taken, including reform of our planning system to ensure we can deliver a relentless focus on regenerating brownfield sites and our town centres. The subject of today’s debate—planning—would not on its own resolve the pressures on housing in coastal areas such as Torbay. I will not argue that we should use changes to the planning system to ban all new short-term holiday lets, yet changes in that specific area could make a real difference and the issue needs to be addressed, not least to give confidence to local authorities when granting planning permission for new housing in popular areas for tourism such as Devon and Cornwall. It would mean new homes would become available rather than new holiday accommodation.

The focus for today is on how we can create a planning system that gives local communities the ability to strike the right balance between opportunities to create different accommodation options for tourists and ensuring there is a supply of housing for the local community, which is vital in providing the staff and services to support the visitor economy without which the tourism short lets would not exist.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to the work within the Department it is vital that the Treasury looks to rebalance the tax inequalities between long-term and short-term rental if we are to secure places for people to live in our beautiful constituencies?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that. A range of factors go into the pressures that push some landlords from long-term residential lets to short-term holiday lets. Factors include the system of taxation and whatever wider regulation is in place for landlords. We might also consider what incentives we can provide for people to build to rent. If a company builds a property specifically to rent it as a home, they are likely to offer longer-term tenancies and the landlord is highly unlikely to want to move back into the property, which is one reason why a residential tenancy might come to an end. My hon. Friend is right to highlight that the issue is part of a wider debate about how we ensure there is an adequate supply of housing in our constituencies so that organisations such as the NHS can recruit staff. We have reflected on that issue before. If people cannot find somewhere to live in the local area, clearly they will not take up jobs in that area. That goes to the heart of the debate.

To expand my argument I should define what I mean by a short-term holiday let. The term “short-term letting” is most commonly used to refer to the offering of residential accommodation to paying guests. It can include single rooms within a shared premises or the letting of an entire premises such as a house or flat. Short-term lettings are distinct from private residential tenancies because they do not require the occupier to treat the property or part of it as their principal home. They are also distinct from other forms of guest accommodation such as hotels or hostels as the lettings are in premises that could or would otherwise be used as a permanent residence—in essence, a home.

There is evidence that the number of short-term lettings in England has increased significantly in recent years, particularly because of the development and growth of the sharing economy and peer-to-peer accommodation services such as Airbnb. Those online platforms essentially provide marketplaces that connect people who want to rent out their properties or spare rooms with people seeking short-term accommodation.

Voter ID

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Thursday 27th April 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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The hon. Lady is right to highlight all the practical work that is going on, and I want to thank local authorities very much for the way they have delivered those additional measures that are going to be needed, backed by £4.75 million of central Government funding through the new burdens process. Of course, the Government will take very seriously all the lessons learned about this exercise, but I return once more to the point: when this process was introduced in Northern Ireland, under a Labour Government, none of the issues that are being raised regularly by Opposition Members were found to have turned out in practice to be the case.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Some elderly constituents have contacted me to say that they know they need voter ID next week and they look forward to their trip to the polling station. Will my hon. Friend confirm what types of voter ID will be acceptable on the day?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank my hon. Friend for the question and encourage all of her constituents, from whatever age group, to go to the polling station. There is a long list of valid forms of photo ID, and we know that 98% of the population hold one of them. I have the list here and it is available on gov.uk. I will not detain the House by reading them all out, but they include: driving licence; passport; blue badge; PASS—national Proof of Age Standards Scheme—card; the Young Scot card; the Post Office card; and of course the free voter authority certificate.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) on introducing this important Bill, because a private vote is at the heart of our democracy. Every citizen over the age of 18 is eligible to have their say, from electing a local councillor to national referendums. Without this basic principle, voters are exposed to the risk of bribery, blackmail and other forms of peer pressure and unfair influencing.

The current situation allows someone to enter the voting booth with another person. In some cases, this can lead to a voter being unduly influenced and coerced in how they vote. This practice may be used by a husband to instruct their wife on which way to vote, which is clearly unacceptable and flies in the face of what the suffragettes fought for more than 100 years ago. Women, and men, from every background have the right to vote for the candidate who best reflects their interest and, I dare say, this sometimes might not align with their husband’s interest.

I welcome the exception for children who enter a polling booth, as teaching our youngsters about the democratic process in such a hands-on way is vital to ensuring that they engage with democracy as they grow up. Similarly, there will always be those who require physical assistance with the voting process but, in making sure that we maintain the strength of our democracy and represent all our constituents and their needs, I warmly welcome this Bill and the support it will provide in ensuring the right to a free and private vote.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 21st March 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I warmly welcome the many good things in the Budget to help cut debt and inflation, but given the time constraint I will focus on what did not make it into this Budget, as it is never too early to lobby for the next one.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities mentioned affordable housing many times, and it is probably the biggest issue in my constituency. It impacts on our productivity, puts pressure on household budgets and makes moving into the region for work increasingly unaffordable. Some challenges of the housing situation on the south-west peninsula rest with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; others are a direct result of taxation policy and could be alleviated by changes to it. We need to level the playing field between long-term and short-term rentals within the taxation system. Both are businesses, but one enables people to live and work in an area and the other is a tourism business. The current tax system encourages short-term lets over long-term lets and needs at least levelling up or possibly even reversing.

Cornwall Council’s own data shows that more than 1,000 people in Cornwall were made homeless in 2021 as a result of landlords changing their properties into more profitable holiday lets. Many of those households are now on Cornwall’s housing wait list, which now numbers more than 20,000. Devon’s is in excess of 16,000. The situation on the peninsula is so severe that businesses are unable to open fully, which is reducing their profitability, and public services cannot recruit because there is simply no affordable housing. Long-term rentals have also collapsed, with a drop of 67% in my constituency in the past two years, making it very hard for people to move into the area. I have already written to the Levelling Up Secretary about this, but he said that he did not want to tinker with the taxation system, so I am very much hoping that the Treasury team will find an opportunity to delve into the housing market. I recognise that this might seem niche and just for tourist parts of the country, but it is now impacting hugely across almost all of Devon and Cornwall and having an impact on our workforce.

While we look to drive up productivity across the south-west, I have another small ask for the Treasury team. Will they revisit the VAT threshold? Every year in Ilfracombe, in my constituency, swathes of businesses close down for the winter rather than go through the £85,000 tax threshold. Having put a small business through that tax threshold myself, I know how challenging it is, but I hope that we can fire the ambition of those small business owners by alleviating that small threshold. I recognise that it does not raise large sums for the Treasury, so I completely understand why it was not included, but this would be an opportunity for those businesses to level up with their bigger competitors in the constituency and hopefully keep that town open and thriving throughout the entire year.

There is so much in this Budget that I warmly welcome, and I thank the Treasury team for all their engagement, and particularly for their help for potholes in Devon, but can we look at what more we can do to level up our coastal communities?