RICHARD BROWN: Young families want to stay in home town
VARIOUS alarm bells have been ringing particularly in local government circles about the major changes to the housing benefit system due to be implemented within the next year.
These changes will have a huge impact in the Torridge district, where we have some of the lowest incomes in the country, combined with high house prices and complicated further by such issues as holiday letting and second home ownership.
The situation has already been worsened by the disappearance of council housing – a gap not truly filled by the introduction of housing associations, which then creates a need for much privately-owned property to be made available for rent.
In Holsworthy we have, over the years, been fortunate to have several responsible private landlords, but the bottom line is that if people have invested in property to let, they expect a return on their investment.
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The worry now is that there is going to be a huge shortfall between what local tenants can reasonably pay without the aid of the current housing benefit scheme, and what the landlords expect to charge.
I fear that an already difficult housing situation may become a lot worse.
The Government has expressed hopes about "rents finding a realistic level" but I do not share its optimism.
It is already hideously difficult for young local couples to climb on the housing ladder and even so-called "affordable housing" quotas (usually reduced when push comes to shove anyway) attached to new developments are priced according to the ivory towered bureaucrats and developers' own perceptions, rather than by the reality of young locals' incomes.
Any "social housing" involved in such schemes seems to be allocated and administered according to the dreaded (and urban slanted) points system, which seems to discriminate against conventional local family units.
Part of the trouble seems to be a hidebound approach within local planning departments and committees.
A radical idea such as arranging financial settlements on organisations like the award-winning Holsworthy Housing/Community Trust (always forget its new title, sorry) which targets genuine local housing needs, seems to frighten the planners away, despite the Government's support for such schemes.
A new approach to the 106 "planning gains" system has to be adopted soon or our young population will be driven away by all these housing problems.
There is a legitimate demand for genuinely feasible homeownership for such people.
For example, I hear that Cleave Crescent has been sold off at very reasonable prices and largely snapped up by young people from local families who thus have a rare chance to start their family lives in their home area.
Due to family commitments I was unable to take up the kind invitation to attend Kivells' first day in charge of Exeter Livestock Market, since the firm's acquisition of Husseys.
Despite it being Friday 13, this was an auspicious day and indicates an enormous boost to this local firm's existing clout within the industry.
Their operation already extends all over the South West and Kivells is now a nationally recognised concern.
At the last count it was directly employing about 135 people and this confirms, to my mind, the imperative need to keep this successful firm based here in its traditional home of Holsworthy, where, despite all the difficulties of recent years, they have continued to provide a major source of prosperity for the whole district.
With this in mind it is vital to press on with the new market and agribusiness centre project. Holsworthy and Torridge need this dynamic firm more than it needs us.
Talking of markets, I really enjoyed the latest visit of the French Market to Holsworthy Town Square.
The stallholders seemed reasonably cheerful despite some inclement weather, and they held their positions till late in the day, thus undermining some of the national stereotyping from which the French usually suffer.
All in all, a refreshing change.
And finally, just to add my comments to the current canine capers.
The Government is proposing new legislation to help control dogs, particularly the so-called dangerous breeds apparently loved by drug dealers, using such measures as micro-chipping every new puppy.
I am not a great dog fan, preferring mine to be hot with mustard and onions but the real problems with pooches stem from their owners.
Even miniscule pets can give you or your long suffering postman a nasty nip if not properly trained and all of them will deposit poop in quantities unless some human cleans it up.
Working dogs are really useful and earn their keep and many people genuinely do love their doggies, but isn't it a pity we did away with the old licensing system?
I suggest reintroducing it at a rate which makes it worthwhile collecting and impound any strays or un-licensed mutts ready for humane disposal if not claimed quickly, with heavy fines for non-compliance.