Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Housing is the hot topic in town

THE hottest topic in town at the moment must be housing - or to be more accurate, housing that locals can afford.

It’s a problem which afflicts virtually every small town and village in the West Country. Such is the beauty of the area we live in, everyone wants a slice of our way of life. And that forces up the price of property with inflated values with the  consequence that many locals are unable to afford to live in the town in which they were born. We are constantly warned that unless we find a solution, Lyme will become a retirement dormitory. 

It’s not a new phenomenom; local councils have been wrestling with the problem for many years.

There’s a natural resistance from Lyme’s indigenous population to any development which is out of their reach.

But expensive houses have always been built in Lyme for people who want to retire to the town. They were always referred to in my younger days as “those who live on top of the hill”. The difference then, of course, was there was adequate social housing with council houses seemingly in plentiful supply.

Today, people aspire to own their own home but it’s so difficult to make that first step towards home ownership. They say the average price of a house in Lyme is in the region of £350,000 and a look in the estate agents’ windows will reveal there is very little on the market for under £200,000.

Many are of the opinion that there is no such thing as an affordable home in this town. The provision of social housing is the responsibility of West Dorset District Council but no one can accuse Lyme Regis Town Council of not doing all in its power to encourage more homes for the young, especially the former town council.

The new council are just as keen to make sure that the young people  of Lyme are able to stay in the town of their birth.

They recently recommended refusal of an application by Bloor Homes who want to turn the former St Alban’s house at Woodberry Down into six four-bedroom houses, to add to the 46 they are already building with prices as high as £630,000. They are also hoping to build a further 52 units of land that runs behind Talbot Road. 

The land on which St Alban’s stands is designated for light industrial use, the reason why the town council opposed the planning applications for more homes. The district council took the unusual step of rejecting the recommendation of their officers and turned down the application.

There are fears that Bloor Homes might appeal this decision and because the officers were recommending approval, they might well get it.

We have been trying all week to get a comment on this possibility from Bloor Homes but at the time of going to press they have not responded. Bloor Homes developed Woodberry Down in the firm knowledge that part of the land was designated for industrial purposes so they must have been prepared for a difficult ride. 

Whether it’s feasible to integrate industrial units on what is now a housing development,  I will leave to others to judge. 

I’m not opposed to housing development in the town. Every occupied new house helps to boost the town’s economy but there has to be a limit. The needs of the young cannot be ignored.

The next big fight over developing  on the outskirts of Lyme will be the application for 120 new homes on agricultural land that runs from Shire Lane to Gore Lane in Uplyme.

This site is currently outside the designated building line but with government pressure on local authorities to build more houses, many believe it is almost certain that this land will be developed at some time in the future.

None of this gives young couples much hope that they will be able to afford to buy property in their home town.

The Community Land Trust in Lyme, under the expert guidance of Denis Yell, is working away on their scheme for 15 low cost units near the golf club, all for rent, and their efforts are to be applauded.

But will it be enough?


THIS newspaper - and this column in particular - has been accused by the usual suspects  of being “too kind” to the new council.

Few will believe this, but we didn’t go out of our way to be “unkind” to the previous council. Their behaviour was such, however,  that it was difficult not to take a stance against them.
There is no doubt that the current councillors are lot more friendly and there is a distinctly more relaxed and respectful atmosphere in the chamber.

But there will be clashes, something which new Mayor Owen Lovell is clearly aware of. He’s very quick to stamp out any  sign of it and so far the councillors have respected his wishes and got on with it. 

One issue which irks me is the number of times councillors go into committee these days. I appreciate there has to be some meetings behind closed doors, especially with new councillors learning the ropes.

Lyme council has a number of working parties which are always held without the press and public present. At one of these recently they discussed what their priority projects should be going forward.

That surely is a discussion which should have been in open council. Councillors sometimes express a very different view when meeting behind closed doors.

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