‘We need more public debate to find housing solutions’, writes Mark Williamson

PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:26 25 September 2020

Mark Williamson

Mark Williamson


In his latest column, Exmouth alderman Mark Williamson has called for debate to find solutions to East Devon’s housing shortage

Attempts to solve our housing crisis seem to take one step forward and two steps back.

We need a more radical approach urgently.

Once again a wind of change is blowing through our planning system. The problem is this. We are building well under the number of new houses we need – at most 200,000 annually compared with the target of 345,000.

East Devon’s contribution is to build 17,100 new homes by 2031 even after pulling out of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. But due to Covid, house building everywhere has slumped.

Underlying these numbers are heart-rending stories – 280,000 people currently homeless. More than 100,000 people have been on social housing waiting lists for over 10 years – and there are 3,000 waiting in East Devon.

As residents, we tend only to be involved in planning when a new application affects us. We complain about overlooking, loss of light, parking problems and the cutting-down of trees.

New towns and large scale housing developments are unavoidable but too many developers fail to deliver on affordable housing provision.

This commitment should be legally enforceable as part of the planning permission, Goodmore’s Farm is a local example of what can go wrong.

It should be made easier to convert the many empty shops (15 in Exmouth when I counted recently) which have not secured an occupier for over a year to residential accommodation subject to building control standards. And there is usually space above. Parking isn’t needed. Car ownership by the under-30s has halved in 10 years. Cars are no longer cool for Millennials but town centre living is.

We need more public debate on solutions, locally as well as nationally. Otherwise in 10 years time this column will be banging the same drum.

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