At a Derbyshire Dales District Council meeting, members debated how the Peak District National Park needs to do more to “retain young people”.
Councillors said towns and villages in the Peak District, an extremely popular international tourist destination, were not “museums” and must not become them – and should not be reserved for the wealthy.
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Members discussed how young people raised in the Peak District often have to leave the area in which they were born to rent or buy a home, due to the cost.
Meanwhile, people moving to the area must wait 10 years before they are eligible to rent an affordable home, with Dales officials saying this was not sustainable and would lead to affordable housing being left empty.
Dales council officials made clear how difficult it is to build affordable housing in the national park and said the system will “break” at some point.
They said it tended to only be small affordable housing schemes which were making the cut – and that affordable housing schemes themselves were rare as a whole – with small schemes proving less financially viable to build.
Officers fear it may become completely financially unviable to find affordable housing in the national park, meaning no available homes for those most in need of support.
This is putting more pressure on the district council to find space for homes and support residents in need of affordable housing, with much of the land effectively deemed not an option, due to it being in the national park.
Paul Wilson, the district council’s chief executive, was one of several key officials to make clear the national park authority needs to make changes in its approach to affordable housing in particular.
The national park is in the process of reviewing its Local Plan, a blueprint for future development.
However, Dales officers feel the current papers published to support the new blueprint do not make housing and sustainable development enough of a priority.
Cllr Mike Ratcliffe said the Peak Park has to “maintain the viability of its villages”, through new housing development.
Officers also said the national park needs to look at the need for affordable housing across its whole patch, as opposed to potentially “cherry-picking” individual sites.
In a report written for last week’s meeting, officers wrote: “Small developments, even on green field sites may not necessarily have an adverse impact upon the character and appearance of the National Park. Housing developments can be accommodated within the park context and can enhance beauty not reduce it.
“This has been demonstrated over 20 years or more in locations such as Winster and Taddington, where the new affordable housing units are exceptional and complement the village rather than detract from it.”
The national park has also suggested that those who would like an affordable home in the Peak District must have a 10-year local connection to the local area. In the past this has been as high as 20 years.
Dales officers pointed out that this is “unduly restrictive and is a disincentive to the provision of additional affordable housing” and suggested five years would be more fair.
Rob Cogings, the Dales’ director of housing, said: “From our experience in the housing team, not enough people remain with the 10-year connection to make developing affordable housing viable.
“A lot of people have actually left the Peak District and in some of these villages we have no affordable housing left at all.
“If we don’t try and reverse that and don’t try and help people that have moved here but have say a three, three-and-a-half, four or four-and-a-half year connection, then we run the risk of new build and existing properties becoming empty and that isn’t going to be sustainable for the community or the housing associations.
“We literally do get calls from people with a nine-years-and-eight-months connection saying ‘when I get to 10 years, will I be eligible?’ and that is the dilemma we are facing on a day-to-day basis.”
Officers also detailed in the report: “The cost of providing new affordable homes has been increasing for many years. There is a danger that slavishly following the design guide, whilst also meeting environmental standards, will mean we reach a point where it is no longer financially viable to provide new affordable homes within the Peak District National Park.
“Grant funding from Homes England, supplemented by grant from local councils and financing from housing associations, cannot keep pace with the relentless increase in build costs.”
Mr Cogings painted a dire picture of the potential future for affordable housing in the Peak District.
He said: “The cost of housing is going up all the time, I think MDF has gone up 62 per cent in the last 12 months, so basic materials are rising at quite a fast rate. You’ve got aspirations of course over land value and all these things are driving cost.”
Mr Cogings said this made it less possible for housing associations to add more energy-saving improvements to homes, such as ground-source heat pumps.
He continued: “Quite often, and what we are finding is the small schemes, where the economies of scale are quite small, you can’t physically get a builder to quote on those prices because they are just so expensive.
“Take Bakewell for example, we have just finished 30-odd homes there and I brought a paper several years ago now asking to put in half a million pounds into that scheme.
“In Tideswell, we are working hard to deliver a scheme for 22 homes and we are being asked to put the same level of investment in to make it work – the figures are going the wrong way.
“It will reach a point where it becomes how much do you put in £1 million to build 20 homes? We will soon run out of money as our own organisation in investing in social housing.
“At some point the system will break, it is not sustainable at the moment to carry on investing at that rate.”
He said he has to consider if he should keep bringing forward plans to put tens of thousands of millions of pounds into affordable housing schemes containing only a small number of homes in communities where the issue is a “real pressure”.
Mr Cogings said this was a “real challenge because we have got no other solution”.
Cllr Dermot Murphy said it was “quite frightening” hearing about the economic difficulties of building homes in the Peak Park.
He said residents want the Peak authority to be more “sympathetic” and make it easier to get planning applications approved, with applications even for a single home proving difficult.
Cllr Murphy said: “They just want some adjustment to allow local young people, young adults to stay in the villages where they grew up.
Cllr Peter O’Brien said the Peak District National Park was not a “holiday park” or a “theme park”, but was “heading that way”.
He said: “Our villages are not museums and they should not be places where only the wealthy or the retired can afford to make their home, but they are.
“Village shops are closing, our schools are under threat and our bus services are being withdrawn.”
He said the current local plan does not do enough to address these issues.
Cllr O’Brien said the Peak Park authority pays “lip service” “to the sustainability and vitality of its local communities”, calling the current approach “limp”.
He said: “Without being unduly unkind to them, I don’t think the National Park authority really understands some of the issues around affordable housing.
“This idea of having to live somewhere for 10 years before you are eligible to apply for a rented house is just ludicrous. How many of us would sit around for 10 years waiting to buy a house?”
He says without comprehensive action “we will simply have no affordable housing in many of our National Park communities”.
Mr Wilson said he was meeting with the chief executive of the National Park and leading officers to give them real-life examples of why it is “increasingly difficult” for the district council to invest in affordable housing and meet the needs of the community.
He asked for councillors to put pressure on the Peak authority.
Cllr Martin Burfoot said it was “more natural” to find “more NIMBYs” in a national park.
Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of the council, said he was disappointed on several occasions to see plans for affordable housing recommended for refusal by Peak Authority officers, while he was a member.
Cllr Steve Wain said: “If you look at the children who are starting at Bakewell school, it is ridiculously low for a town of that size and this shows it is not able to retain young people in that area, and I think affordable housing is the way forward.”
Brian Taylor, head of planning for the Peak District National Park Authority said: “The authority is currently shaping the next Local Plan and we are grateful for the early views from the district council as we gather evidence and develop topic papers in support of the plan. Since 2011, we have supported over 120 permissions for new-build affordable homes (120+ affordable homes) at over 20 locations across the National Park.”
More than 140 affordable homes are required for households in Ashbourne alone.
In 2018 alone the district council saw 110 affordable homes completed with a further 437 planned to be built between then and the end of 2021.
Mr Taylor continued: “Over 250 open market homes have also been built and since 2006, just over a thousand homes of all different types have been built.
“A key example of this delivery is the former Newburgh Engineering site in Bradwell which saw permission granted in 2016 and the construction of 55 properties including 12 affordable homes. This involved building in natural stone, in-keeping with the village character but enhancing a brown field site and delivered by the community land trust, through the neighbourhood plan supported by the authority.
“Crucially, housing development within the National Park and through our strategy is not target-driven but determined by the weight placed on the long term conservation of the landscape, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area. Our focus remains on affordable housing for local communities and finding ways that this can be achieved without impacting on the special qualities of the Peak District’s protected landscapes, whilst considering the needs of the area and the capacity of the National Park.
“National policy already recognises that National Parks are not appropriate places to address general housing needs.
“A new Local Plan for the National Park must also drive nature recovery, and have climate change at the core of our thinking.
“Our ambition will be to strike a balance between thriving and sustainable communities and conserving the special qualities of the area which is also a vital resource for the nation.”