Affordable Housing Project Update June 2021

Summary

Parracombe Community Trust is working with Middlemarch Community-Led Housing (formerly Wessex Community Assets) to provide a minimum of six affordable rented homes in Parracombe for people with an established local link.

A local link is defined according to criteria laid down in the Exmoor National Park Authority’s Affordable Housing Policy

The PCT is acting as enabler for this project – desperately needed in a rural area with comparatively low family incomes, traditionally high housing costs and severe development restrictions (the village is a designated Conservation Area within the Exmoor National Park).

As enabler, the PCT’s role has been to adopt a housing needs survey, identify a preferred site, consult with the community, provide community updates, seek appropriate grants from local and national government, negotiate land purchase, appoint lawyers to investigate title and other searches, oversee feasibility studies, appoint architects, engineers and a partner Housing Association and see the project right through the planning process so that it is ‘shovel-ready’ for a developer.

It is important to note that while the PCT will be a key stakeholder in the above, and will prepare a Design and Access Statement as part of a planning application, it will not be responsible for actual building work and costs nor for managing the affordable homes. These matters will be the remit of our Housing Association Partner.

The Trust will retain freehold title to the land and will be paid an agreed annual rent by the Housing Association in line with market values. Tenants will be selected by Devon Home Choice in partnership with the HA and selection will be compliant with the Trust’s local link criteria.

Work to date – including our Partners and Stakeholders

Housing needs survey

We relied on a Parracombe Parish Council housing needs survey which identified a clear demand for local-needs affordable homes.

Site identification

We worked with a North Devon Council Rural Housing Enabler to map some 30 potential development sites around the village. All but three were ruled unsuitable and of the three only one landowner was willing to sell.

Consultation

The Trust has so far held two public meetings giving a ‘broad brush’ explanation of the project and its aims. The project secured a large majority of community support. Further meetings will be held once initial designs are ready. Members of the community trust and the wider community have been provided with regular updates via email and the Trust’s website.

Grants from local and national government.

The Trust has secured a £16004.00 grant from North Devon Council to pay for site feasibility studies (see below). NDC has also agreed to provide further support for legal fees and searches. The Trust has received £1620.00 from Homes England via its Community-Led Homes Fund – this is to help pay for initial legal work to establish title.

Land purchase

The Trust has agreed Heads of Terms with the landowner and a purchase price will be finalised once feasibility studies, legal searches and planning procedures have been completed.

Architect

Three firms were interviewed via Zoom by a panel of four PCT board members – assisted by our adviser Jay Lambe. After careful consideration we unanimously decided to appoint Sicolo-Webb, a small practice based in Bath, which we believe has the vision, experience and commitment to help deliver a project which is both worthy of the village and respects its character within the National Park.

Profile — Sicolo Webb Architects.

Matt Sicolo, our lead architect, has visited Parracombe, photographed existing architecture and has begun initial drawings.

Housing Association Partner

Our housing association partner will be responsible for building and managing the homes. This can happen only once local consultation is complete and planning permission is granted.

We invited expressions of interest from large and small associations across the region but in the event only two were interviewed – again by a four-person PCT panel. Panel members agreed, again unanimously, to appoint South Devon Rural Housing Association as our development partner.

We felt SDRHA was the outstanding choice. It offers an experienced team with genuine enthusiasm for, and understanding of, small housing projects in sensitive rural areas.

South Devon Rural Housing

Despite its name SDRHA is seeking to expand right across the county and already manages projects similar to ours in Cornwall. It will work closely with Matt and ourselves, liaise with Homes England over grant funding and appoint contractors. It will then take on management of the homes and engage closely with tenants.

Lawyers

Our project team lawyer is Katie Duggins of Anthony Collins Solicitors.

Feasibility Studies

Working with our Middlemarch adviser Jay Lambe, the Trust has so far appointed five contractors to conduct feasibility studies on site. They are:

Aboriculture – Bruce MacFarlane at CoastalTree – completed.
Ecology – Kitty Straghan at Devon Wildlife Trust – completed
Ground Investigation – Steven Hill of TerraFirmaSouth
Engineering – Nick Mills of Craddy’s
Topographic – Mark Trewin of Datumline

Next steps

The Trust’s Housing Committee held its first full Project Team Meeting in May attended by our key partners – South Devon Rural HA, Sicolo Webb and Craddy’s. We expect to hold at least two further PDT meetings during the summer after which planning guidance will be sought from the Exmoor National Park Authority. Our target is to submit a planning application by late autumn 2021.

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