TOWN councillor Cheryl Reynolds is launching a petition in an attempt to address the lack of affordable housing in Lyme Regis.
Cllr Reynolds said she will be petitioning Dorset Council to make an exception in its housing allocation policy. She will ask for the social housing stock still managed by housing associations in Lyme Regis to be made available to people who live in the town only, and not to those who move from other areas of Dorset.
Plans for the petition were raised during a town council discussion on Dorset Council’s draft Local Plan, which outlines strategy for the growth Dorset needs, for development in suitable places, for community services including schools, retail, leisure and community facilities, and for the appropriate character and quality of development.
Once adopted, the plan will guide decisions on planning applications in Dorset until 2038.
Cllr Reynolds said planning policies and decisions in rural areas were supposed to reflect local needs and support strong, healthy and vibrant communities.
“But what happens when there is nowhere left to build?” she asked.
“What happens when a lot of the housing stock has been sold off and the allocation policy allows people from other areas to take houses that are available? I will tell you what happens – an awful lot of bad feeling.
“How about we ask for an exception for Lyme Regis, for the social housing that is still maintained by housing associations to be an exception site for people that live here and their children, and their children’s children?
“I intend to get a petition, to be signed by everyone I can get to sign it, to take to Dorset Council to make Lyme an exception and change the allocation policy for us. We are an exception.
“I know this is a big ask but we have proved through this pandemic that we can work together to achieve what we need. Let’s do this and show Dorset what we really need and make people listen for the sake of our future generations.
“I want us to take this forward into the Local Plan and also to turn up at Dorset Council and tell them just what I think, because I know it’s what an awful lot of other people think too.”
Lyme Regis needs access to essential services
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Cllr Brian Larcombe MBE, acknowledged the issues surrounding affordable housing but said he would like to stress the importance of connectivity and access to essential services in responding to the Local Plan.
“Lyme is a very small town and we’re 30 miles equally distanced to any large town with all the really important essential services, particularly for health, the large supermarkets are 10 miles away,” he said.
“I think it’s important that we do give a response on this because a Local Plan is not just about housing, it’s about everything accompanies it.”
In particular, Cllr Larcombe said it was important to stress the need for improved connectivity to broadband, road and rail links, centres of employment, health and essential services.
“Otherwise we could become a bit of rural backwater, even though we don’t feel that we are, because of the distance to these things,” he added.
Cllr Bawden said the Local Plan “completely disregarded” Dorset Council’s own policy and strategy on the climate and ecological emergency and it was also important to raise this.
Returning to the issue of affordable housing, Cllr Reynolds said: “We may be interested in the connectivity and everything else, but I’m looking at all the people that have to move out of Lyme to find somewhere to live because we have loads of people that come from other places and take the social housing.
“We need to ensure that this point is brought forward to the Local Plan, no matter what anybody says.”
Cllr Larcombe replied: “We don’t have any land left to build on and don’t have a great deal to offer in employment except for a very low wage economy of seasonal work, so it’s important that we get the connectivity, that people in Lyme can get to places of work and all those essential services.”
He added that it was also important to consider Lyme’s above average elderly population and high dependence on seasonal tourism, which he said “has big bearing on the kind of environment we live in and work in”.
The mayor also said it was important to consider Lyme’s proximity to the Devon border.
“I think it’s important that whatever’s in Dorset’s Local Plan has some bearing or some relationship to the common areas of East Devon because increasingly people are going just over the border to find the things that they need,” he said.
“What happens in Axminster is as important to us as it is to Axminster residents, this has to be part of a whole picture.”
Young people struggling to find affordable housing
Returning to her original point of affordable housing once again, Cllr Reynolds asked: “Do none of you agree with me that we’re an exception here? And that we have to make our exceptions clear and not be thinking about the rest of Dorset but Lyme Regis first, before we think about anything else?”
Some councillors suggested that this was not the right time in the Local Plan consultation process to raise Cllr Reynolds’ concerns over the affordable housing allocation policy.
She said: “Regardless of what the council does I am going to get a petition started and I am going to take it to Dorset Council. You can say what you like about this plan but that’s what I feel and I feel really strongly about it.”
Cllr Michaela Ellis also argued that they should raise the issue of affordable housing now, commenting: “If we do not get made an exception site we are going to find that the age of this town goes up and up and up and there will be nothing left for anybody else because the young people will all have had to move away for housing, and if they move away for housing a lot of them will move away for jobs.”
Later in the meeting, focus turned to the large proportion of second homes in Lyme Regis, with Cllr Ellis saying there were “too many” and “that’s what’s causing our local children not being able to afford anything and having to move out of the town”.
The mayor argued that if all the second homes in the town were put on the market, local young people would still not be able to afford them because the demand exceeded the supply, meaning property prices in Lyme Regis “would always be out of reach”.
“I don’t think in all honesty that youngsters in Lyme will be able to get the kind of job that pays the money to pay a mortgage,” he added.
Cllr Reynolds said his comments were “ridiculous” and not true.
Cllr Ellis replied: “They could afford a mortgage because they’re paying more in rent if they’re in private in rent, and I know many that are, than they would in monthly mortgage repayments, but they don’t have the money to put down for a deposit on a house because they can’t save while renting.”
Cllr Reynolds added: “And they can’t get into social housing because it’s given to people from outside of Lyme.”
Councillors’ comments on affordable housing and other issues were noted as part of their response to the consultation on Dorset Council’s Local Plan.
During the meeting, Cllr Bawden complained that the consultation was only open until March 15 and this was not long enough, especially during a national lockdown.
Is Dorset Local Plan consultation ‘democratically-limited’?
By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins
Cllr Bawden’s comments were echoed by Cranborne and Alderholt councillor David Tooke at a virtual meeting of Dorset Council this week.
He suggested that the consultation was a “democratically limited” process and should be postponed until later in the year when face-to-face meetings might be possible and the council could arrange roadshows.
“The current Local Plan consultation strategy largely relies on people having access to, and sufficient familiarity and experience with, the internet,” he said.
“Whilst there are copies lodged with local libraries people need to be able to book, collect, read and return these in a short space of time.
“Given the three-week loan period it’s likely that each copy will only be read by two, or at most three people, in the time available.
“Many people are suffering extreme hardship and stress, many juggling home working whilst having to home educate children, many battling with grief, or loss of their livelihood.
“A great number of people do not have access to online facilities or are simply unable to engage with it. This is not the time to be conducting a public consultation when a large number of local residents are unable to participate.”
Planning brief holder Cllr David Walsh argued that a lack of internet access and the pandemic restrictions should not stop people taking part in the exercise.
He said: “Around 90 per cent of residents have internet access and are therefore fully able to take part in the consultation online. There is no requirement in legislation to make individual hard copies available. Planning regulations were amended in response to the pandemic to remove the requirement for even inspection hard copies to be available.
“But, in the best interests of all our residents and to ensure no-one is excluded from taking part, we have planned for those who are not online. This includes the library copies, and we are making more copies available to those libraries where demand is greater. The libraries can also arrange delivery if people are unable to collect a copy.”
Cllr Walsh said the council had paid for social media advertising, arranged online webinars that can be accessed via the telephone and watched at any time, as well as podcasts and a dedicated telephone line for people who would like to speak to planning officers and discuss anything to do with the plan.
He continued: “Delaying the consultation would have a major impact on the programme for preparing the Local Plan and would be an extremely high-risk strategy… all of our currently adopted Local Plans are more than five years old, and we do not have any parts of the council area that have both a five-year land supply and sufficient housing delivery in the last year to pass the ‘housing delivery test’.
“This means that we currently have less control over the development that takes place in our area, until we can adopt an up to date plan that allocates enough land to meet our development requirements. Therefore, it is vitally important for us to avoid any delay in preparing the plan.
“In short, waiting for the pandemic to blow over and everything to get back to normal is simply not an option for us.”
How to have your say on the Dorset Local Plan
THE consultation is now available online at www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/dorset-council-local-plan
For people who don’t have access to the plan online there are paper copies available for loan at libraries through their click and collect service.
There are also displays in windows of empty shops, libraries and Tourist Information Centres in some town centres. There will also be a phone line that people can call to ask questions. This number will be available Monday to Friday, 10am to 2pm on 01305 252500.
A series of webinars will allow people to phone in and listen to, or view presentations about various sections of the plan. Once published, the webinars will be available to view at any time on Dorset Council’s YouTube channel.
Questions can be submitted in advance for the team to answer either as part of the webinar or afterwards. The council will aim to respond to all questions asked to each webinar on its webpage no later than two weeks afterwards.
There are also bespoke surgeries for particular groups and town and parish councils available upon request.
A series of animations and podcasts have been developed to help explain the Dorset Council Local Plan. These can be found through Dorset Council’s social media channels or on the podcast platform Anchor.
The consultation closes on March 15 2021. The plan will go through several phases and will include a further chance for feedback on the ‘soundness’ of the plan. It will also be scrutinised by the planning inspectorate before its adoption.