Could building above car parks help solve housing issue?

New builds are not the only solution to housing problems

Finding a solution to the housing problem - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Before I get going this week, it is appropriate that I record briefly the fact that East Devon District Council has made an initial response to the news that one of its former Conservative councillors, John Humphreys, was sentenced to 21 years in prison a few weeks ago for a number of counts of sexual assault.

The council’s first action was to meet to remove his honorific title as an Alderman. It’s a small but significant start to a council response. However, it is important to record through this column that - in my personal view as Leader of EDDC - this is just the first inch in what will need to be a many mile journey looking into this matter. For legal reasons I cannot pass further comment.

However, it is crucial that it is understood by the public, and in particular the victims, that I have heard very clearly the widely reported comment in one of the victim’s impact statements, that he believed there had been many years inertia in the conviction of Humphreys due to his “political influence”.

That statement is one that in my view cannot be left unexplored. It already is being, and I will ensure that every stone which needs to be overturned to get to the truth will be. I suspect that all the people who voted for me and the kind of administration I lead at EDDC would expect nothing less.
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As stated, I cannot pass further comment at this stage, so I must apologise for crashing gears with a complete change of subject.

So, and with the nights beginning to shorten, we get into the time of the year which, in my view, sets the agenda for what is possible all the way through to the end of next summer.

For that reason, I wanted to share with readers your district council’s absolute number one priority for that period – somehow we must do all we can to increase the level of housing stock available to local people who are unable to afford the prices of most private sector homes. As we all know, there is a “perfect storm” in our area.

House prices are soaring as the broadband-enabled work-from-home revolution was stimulated even further by the pandemic. We happened to have our own home valued both before the pandemic and then a few months ago and it showed an increase in likely price at sale of more than 20% in eighteen months. This accords with data across most of Devon and Cornwall, and it applies in all sectors of the market.

Meanwhile, compounding the post-Brexit loss from the available labour force in Devon, it has become even more unaffordable than before for people on low-to-middle salaries to live here. It’s not just the challenge to raise the deposit and mortgage to get on the property ladder, it is the almost non-existence of the supply in the rental market if you are not over 60.

So, what is needed now is some radical thinking. As a local authority we need to help find brownfield land, perhaps in EDDC’s own ownership, on which to build. I am aware that I am hurling a cat amongst the pigeons here, but I’ll say it anyway.

One part of EDDC’s land assets is its car parks, of which there are many. Now, this would not apply to all of them by any means, but perhaps some. How about we retain the car parking capacity at a ground floor level, but build homes at another two or three levels above? This would provide decent starter homes in central locations of some of our most economically challenged towns.

What do you think? Please don’t think for a minute this would be about losing car parking capacity, or that this would be rolled out without huge consultation locally. But if not there, where?

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