LYME Regis Community Land Trust (CLT) will carry out a feasibility study into the possibility of providing affordable homes to rent at Woodmead Halls car park.
The car park on Hill Road, owned by Lyme Regis Town Council, has been suggested for affordable housing before, with the council having pushed for a development in previous years, but it was met with several planning issues and never got off the ground.
Members of the CLT, which has already successfully developed 15 affordable rental homes at the new Garmans Field estate, off Timber Hill, said they had “dumped” previous plans for the Woodmead Halls car park and had started again with a clean slate.
Speaking at last week’s town council meeting, CLT chairman Keith Jenkin said: “Lyme Regis CLT was formed some seven years ago. At an early meeting the late Councillor Barbara Austin MBE said in this chamber, ‘What you want to do is provide affordable rental housing for local people in perpetuity.’ We certainly didn’t realise the full impact of what she said but we took it on board and it became our mission statement.
“Since then, we have developed 15 affordable units of various sizes at Garmans Field, all of which are tenanted by people with a confirmed local connection. We have also won the People Powered Award of the Year and have been shortlisted for the National Affordable Housing Scheme of the Year.
“We have seemingly built a reputation in housing association circles and were asked to lead a workshop at the CLT national conference a few months ago.
Still a demand for affordable housing
“At the onset there was a massive need for affordable housing for people in Lyme Regis. This was evidenced by the fact that when our 15 units became available, 258 bids were made. Some considerable sifting then took place and we eventually got the number down to 45 – an oversubscription of 300 per cent.
“That need still remains and with this in mind we ask the council for permission to undertake a feasibility study of the Woodmead Halls car park area.”
Mr Jenkin’s wife and fellow CLT member, Lorna Jenkin, then gave further details on the project.
Mrs Jenkin was a town councillor when the previous housing scheme for Woodmead Halls car park was put forward, so she said she understood what councillors’ concerns would be.
“It became unwieldy and planners at West Dorset warned it would not be accepted,” she commented.
“The CLT has dumped those plans into past history and started again with a clean slate.”
Mrs Jenkin explained that the CLT was now focussing on an area of land behind the Emergency Services Centre, adjacent to the town council’s car park, which was currently owned by the ambulance trust and Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service. The land is not currently used and Mrs Jenkin said it was “surprising how big the space is”.
Mrs Jenkin said the fire and ambulance services were “fully behind our idea” and had agreed to make the land available for affordable housing.
She said: “We know from those 250-odd applications that the need for affordable housing exists and we are now thinking of compact maisonette or studio flat-type housing for singles and couples seeking one-bedroom accommodation, not families. There are currently 38 eligible applicants for this size home on the Dorset Home Choice housing list for Lyme Regis.
“We know that housing associations will re-house any tenants with babies and small children into more suitable accommodation elsewhere in the town.
“Our broad idea is to commission a feasibility study by experts in the field of CLTs and affordable housing to look a way of incorporating a few units on the grass or elsewhere, which will protect the council’s income and fit into the landscape.
Car park income ‘essential’
“We know that the income from the car park is essential to the council and we envisage no loss of parking spaces and hope there may even be an increase. We will insist that you and the wider public are given an opportunity to contribute to the study.
“We have considered the idea of incorporating into the study a professional look at the whole of the car park area to see if re-jigging the layout will increase spaces; if it doesn’t then we will leave well alone.
“The cost of the study will come from CLT sources and any re-jigging and access costs will form part of the overall development cost of the project; nothing will be asked of the council’s budget. We are asking to give your blessing to this feasibility study, not to commit to anything further at this time.”
Despite Mrs Jenkin’s assurances over parking spaces, Councillor Michaela Ellis raised some reservations.
She commented: “The conflict that this raised between residents and parking, and the impact of the development on the character of the area, is something we really need to consider. But the biggest issue is the parking spaces that could be lost… we need every paring space in this town for residents and visitors.”
Councillor Ellis, who declared a personal interest in the matter as her house backs onto the Woodmead Halls car park, then left the chamber and did not take part in the debate.
Members agreed to give permission for the feasibility study to be carried out with very little further discussion.