At the December meeting of the South Hams Executive, our housing team provided an update on the actions that the Council has taken over the last 14 months to try and alleviate the housing crisis we’re facing in the district.

It’s an issue that has undoubtedly grown more complex throughout 2022. New challenges like the cost-of-living crisis, and global price rises in materials and labour are aggravating the situation. These national and global issues haven’t stopped the Council from working incredibly hard to try and help local people find homes and to provide some relief in these difficult times.

In early November, I appeared at Westminster to speak to a House of Lords Select Committee on the challenges around short-term lets and the impact that ever increasing numbers of these have on residents here in the South Hams. Throughout the housing crisis, we’ve been banging the drum and raising awareness around these issues with national government. Lobbying government is one of the most powerful tools we have to create meaningful change.

One of the most encouraging projects we’re delivering is the construction of eight affordable homes in St Ann’s Chapel. These are the first affordable homes that the Council has built in a generation; it’s a small development but it’s a start and hopefully a sign of things to come. These homes are not just affordable, but high quality, energy efficient homes that will be low cost to heat and run. Air source heat pumps and low water use fittings form part of the design, along with electric car charging points. With the current energy crisis, this will be great news for future tenants to keep their bills low and manageable.

As well as constructing new homes, we also need to find ways to maximise the housing stock we have already. We need to get the absolute most out of each house available. Earlier this year, we launched a scheme to incentivise downsizing homes for those living in a housing association or social housing property. The scheme, designed to help tenants to downsize to smaller homes as their household needs change, is freeing up homes for families struggling in cramped conditions. Fifteen homes have already been freed up, with four more accepted onto the scheme.

Another scheme we’ve launched this year is our innovative “Step On” pilot scheme. We’ve been offering £5,000 to first time buyers to help people get on the housing ladder by helping with deposits on shared ownership homes. It’s unlike any other scheme being offered by local authorities across the country. It’s a sign that we as an authority are thinking differently to try and tackle the problem.

There’s no denying the scale of the housing problem across Devon – and we’ll be better off uniting with partner organisations to try to improve things. Working in partnership with Kingsbridge Town Council, we’ve invited expressions of interest on two council-owned sites in the town, in an effort to bring forward more affordable homes.

South Hams District Council will continue to do all it can to help local people in the housing crisis. These are just some of the steps we’ve taken over the last 14 months and we will endeavour to take more, go further and do whatever is in our power to improve the housing situation here in the district.