Potential sites for more affordable housing identified in Northumberland communities

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The provision of more affordable housing, in areas of greatest need, continues to be one of Northumberland County Council’s top priorities.

The lack of affordable housing in Northumberland has been acknowledged and council officers are working hard to identify potential development sites, working in partnership with other housing providers and developers and assisting community led schemes, to support the building of affordable housing where it is most needed.

The council, following the launch of a recent petition, recognises the concerns of residents living in the coastal communities of Seahouses, Bamburgh and North Sunderland who feel they are being priced out of the local housing market by second homeowners.

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Council leader Glen Sanderson said: “Our beautiful county is a great tourist destination, and this is vital for the local economy, but the abundance of second home ownerships and holiday lets has also impacted on the availability of affordable housing for local people, especially in coastal communities.

Affordable housing in Northumberland.Affordable housing in Northumberland.
Affordable housing in Northumberland.

“Too many people, especially the young, are being forced to move away from the communities they grew up in because they have been priced out of the local market. This is a problem we are taking very seriously and working hard to redress.

“We need to retain young people in the county to support our growing economy and ensure our communities, local businesses and services continue to thrive.”

The county council has currently identified a potential of 629 affordable houses in communities right across the county. This includes new affordable housing developments in the coastal communities of Seahouses and Berwick - however negotiations are at a very early stage so they cannot yet be made public.

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Cllr Sanderson added: “We are very aware of the shortage of affordable housing in parts of the county, and improving the quantity and quality of affordable housing to help create more homes for rent remains one of our top priorities.

“Finding and acquiring suitable sites in the right communities does take time so there is no quick fix, but there is an enormous amount of work going on behind the scenes to make this happen.

“The covid pandemic and the associated ongoing challenges within the construction industry and supply chain has impacted on our ability to bring forward new homes at the rate we would wish to do so.

“Despite this, we have made some fantastic progress and are working very hard to make a real and meaningful difference to the county’s housing shortage. The houses, of various styles, will be of mixed sizes to meet local needs, including housing options for the elderly, families and for single people. In smaller communities, those with a strong connection to the area, will also be given priority under the allocation process.”

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The council has confirmed plans in place to deliver 196 affordable properties at Blyth, Embelton, Wooler, Amble, Ellington and Allendale and work on many of these schemes has already started.

These include new build homes, the acquisition of S.106 units, and plans to acquire 25 homes by exercising its right of first refusal when people wish to sell their home that they bought through the right to buy scheme.

The authority is also working on a number of schemes including work with partners which will deliver 123 units on sites in Cramlington, Blyth, New Hartley, Rothbury, Bellingham and has identified a number of other sites, which whilst requiring further investigation, could deliver a further 300 affordable homes.

To support the affordable housing developments, the council was successful in securing an initial grant of over £900k through Homes England’s Affordable Homes Programme and is working with Homes England to secure further grants on future schemes.Cllr Sanderson added: “The council recognises the impact second and holiday homes can have on communities, especially in coastal areas, and is using a range of approaches to tackle this problem.

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"For example, planning permission is not required to change an existing house into a holiday-let or a second home. The council has therefore developed policies in the new Local Plan that can be used to restrict the occupation of new houses so that they are only used as permanent homes.

"This means that the authority can require all new dwellings to be occupied only as a 'principal residence' in parishes across the county, where more than 20% of the housing stock is not being used as someone's main home.”

Neighbourhood Plans can also offer opportunities to either impose restrictions or identify additional land purely for local needs housing. The council has a dedicated team to offer assistance on the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans - including ones that address the challenges of our coastal communities.

To tackle the affordable housing issue in another way, the council is getting involved directly in building homes for local needs. The council is requiring major house builders to provide affordable housing for local people as part of their schemes. Over the last five years more than a thousand affordable homes have been secured by this route in the county, and in the future up to 30% of major sites will need to be affordable homes.

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In addition to new build schemes, there is work going on to help bring empty properties back into use as affordable rented homes.

The authority is also facilitating the delivery of community led housing and has provided just over £300k of capital funding to support community organisations to develop their own housing and has plans to help further schemes.

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