County council leader declares housing crisis in Devon as market ‘has distorted immeasurably’

County council chiefs have declared a housing crisis in Devon. 

The authority’s leader John Hart made the announcement as figures show  price rises in some parts of the area   among the highest in the country.

And a lack of rental properties is preventing key workers moving to the area, writes Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

More private rented accommodation is also being converted to short-term holiday lets or sold to take advantage of rising costs or higher taxes on private landlords.

In the summer, local leaders described an estimated 70 per cent drop in Devon’s private rental stock since 2019 as ‘terrifying’.

At the December meeting of Devon County Council (DCC), members from all parties backed the creation of a new strategic housing taskforce in partnership with district authorities and partners such as Homes England.

Members also agreed to see whether the council could offer accommodation to key workers and to lobby MPs to press for tax loopholes on holiday rental homes to be tightened.

Councillor Hart, a Conservative, told the meeting: “The housing market in Devon has distorted immeasurably over the last two years.

“It’s been a problem for a lot longer, but what has happened in the last two years is that because of influences outside of this council.

“We’re getting more and more people offering homes for holiday let through Airbnb, people that are selling homes to people from up country.

“We’re finishing up with little housing available for Devon people, people that we want to employ in our workshops, people that we need to look after in the care community and, on the basis of that, we have got a housing crisis.”

He slammed as ‘a nonsense’ homeowners having ‘the right to turn their house and flip it into a business rate’.

He was referring to an option for holiday lets being available to rent for a certain amount of days a year, avoiding having to pay council tax.

“We get nine per cent of a business rate, we get 70 per cent of a council tax,” said Cllr Hart.

“I know one or two people have suggested we double council tax. I just want 70 per cent of one council tax, which would improve the finances of this council.”

Cllr Hart highlighted the importance of Team Devon – a group comprising DCC and district authorities backed by business groups, public sector organisations and the county’s MPs – in lobbying for change at Whitehall.

Figures produced for Team Devon show Airbnb offering 253 rentals in Exmouth compared with just four residential lettings.

In Ilfracombe, the figures are 326 compared to four.

Opposition leader Lib Dem Cllr Alan Connett supported the measures saying the ‘market has changed and we should do something about it’.

He added: “I am clear, absolutely crystal clear, on the need to provide and continue to provide homes for those who genuinely need them.

“That is not an evangelical mission on my part. It is a mission for life. I have been homeless in my life. I know what it’s like and I don’t want anyone to experience it because every one of us should be able to bring up our children in a safe, warm, secure home.

“Children should be able to go to school in the morning knowing where they are going home in the evening to do their homework and go to sleep in a safe, warm, secure bed.

“These are to me inalienable truths that all of us should want, so housing is important.”

Labour group leader Cllr Rob Hannaford added: “I think years ago, if I talked about housing here, I’d have been ticked off and told, ‘We’re not a local housing authority, you don’t talk about it.’

“Well actually, as Cllr Connett and the leader have said, it is actually our problem now.”

He described the measures as ‘extremely welcome’ and said the crisis is ‘affecting our business as we run it, or the operations of this council, and we’ve got to take it so seriously’.

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