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Poor housing and transport exacerbating deprivation, says Bishop of Exeter

28 July 2023

iStock

A row of houses in Exeter

A row of houses in Exeter

THE escalating housing crisis in rural and coastal areas merits action, not just sympathy, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, told the House of Lords on Monday.

Coupled with inadequate public transport, it exacerbated the cycle of deprivation and stifled aspiration, he said, and he challenged the Government to say how it planned to reshape its housing policies. Bishop Atwell, who instigated the short debate, called for a “coherent long-term strategy . . . a coalition of good will” to bring it about.

The Government had admitted to falling woefully short of its own home-building target, he said. “As a result, people are suffering because they have nowhere to call home. Their health is diminished and community spirit is being eroded. In coastal and rural areas, particularly in tourist hotspots, the situation is compounded by second home ownership, holiday rentals, and Airbnb lettings.”

In Devon, there were only 700 properties to rent, compared with more than 15,700 holiday lets, the Bishop said. The situation was worse in Cornwall, with only 208 rental properties listed, compared with more than 19,000 holiday lets.

The housing crisis, together with poor public transport, was contributing to low educational attainment, thus disadvantaging young people wishing to engage in educational and apprenticeship opportunities.

“The human and societal cost of the housing crisis is accelerating. Employers struggle to recruit for the hospitality and retail industries. Health-care providers and community services suffer shortages because key workers cannot afford to live in rural and coastal areas.”

In Devon, even if housing waiting lists closed tomorrow, it would still take more than 32 years to clear the backlog, he said. He welcomed the various practical responses that were being developed to address the crisis, but emphasised: “The complexity of the situation means that we cannot afford to tackle this crisis piecemeal.”

The picture-postcard view of rural life was only half the story, he said. “The absence of housing supply, the diversity of people’s needs, and the immense pressure in the system means that neither the market nor any single organisation or individual can make the difference that we all long for.

“Without partnership and systemic change, the spiral of deprivation will become more acute. The Government need to recognise the scale of the problem.”

Responding, Baroness Swinburne said: “We are absolutely committed to getting Britain building in a way that delivers for our much-loved rural and coastal communities, championing affordability, home ownership, beauty, and sustainability.

“Housing is very much an important part of this, alongside better access to high-quality jobs, efficient infrastructure, and a pride in place that drives economic growth in these areas and ultimately ensures the best possible life for all in the UK. . . This is levelling-up; we are working to make it happen, and it is working.”

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