‘Southwold simply will not survive if it continues along its current course of a declining resident population’ - Warning as Southwold social housing sold to buy new homes in Reydon
A decision to sell off social housing in Southwold to provide more affordable homes in Reydon has come under fire amid claims it will alienate young people and fails to address the town's declining population.
Waveney District Council hopes to increase its stock of affordable homes by buying six houses in Reydon with the money made from selling two empty properties in Southwold.
The properties are on the market with estate agent Jennie Jones; 16 Pier Avenue is up for sale for �335,000, while an apartment at 3A Chester Road is priced at �325,000. These will be joined on the market by a third social housing property if Waveney's cabinet backs plans to sell off flat 9 Chester Road.
This week, Jessica de Grazia, Waveney chairman of the Suffolk Preservation Society, questioned the logic of the moves, saying selling the properties could accelerate the decline in Southwold's resident population.
But the town's mayor, Michael Ladd, who voted in favour of the decision along with the district councillor with a portfolio for housing Sue Allen, defended the moves. He said it was the right decision to take, given the lack of land to build new affordable homes in the town.
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'Taking into account the Southwold and Reydon area and the lack of social housing, it seemed like the right decision to make,' Mr Ladd said. 'The properties are Waveney-owned, not in a great state and would have cost money to do up. So if we can raise several hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy five family homes a mile up the road in Reydon it seems a good idea. That said, I can understand people's concerns in Southwold.
'Sue Allen and I had to weigh this up and we do not have the monopoly at Waveney. The one area we got a concession on was that the money should stay in the Southwold and Reydon area.
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'I've always been in favour of getting more affordable housing in Southwold, but there is no more building land. 'We've also expressed an interest in the right to buy the Southwold fire station when it comes on the market. It is a community building and we would like it to stay within the community as a possible site for affordable housing.
'The landlords' working group has been drawing up a business plan for the fire station site, and looking at funds for purchase, and ways we could raise money.
'The Localism Act has given us a chance to put in a bid and hopefully that will give Suffolk County Council the money they need to put in the new fire station in Reydon.'
Waveney currently owns 92 homes in Southwold and 94 in Reydon. It claims the demand for affordable homes in these areas is 'solid' with 15 applications in the 'higher needs' bands looking for two or three-bedroom houses.
By selling the two properties, the council is taking advantage of the high property prices in Southwold which in some cases, are some of the highest in the country, thanks to the demand for second homes.
Ms de Grazia said she knew young people who wanted to take advantage of social housing in Southwold, but were unable to do so because of the lack of availability. She said: 'Selling houses in Southwold and buying more elsewhere doesn't solve the problem about social housing in Southwold.
'The issue here is that the Waveney councillors went along with a proposal that is good for the district but not good for Southwold. What we need is strategic thinking that includes an understanding of what Southwold's problems are and a commitment to resolving them.
'I know young people who would love to live in Southwold. They would take up rented social housing if it was available. Southwold simply will not survive if it continues along its current course of a declining resident population. 'I think the town council needs to develop a sound strategy for acquiring land for affordable housing. But we need to see that on paper to make sure it is sound, including how they are going to raise the money.
'Why not get some kind of mitigation from Waveney that says a portion of the money from the sale of the town properties gets allocated to new social housing in Southwold?'
At the last Southwold Town Council meeting on September 25, Ms de Grazia raised doubts as to whether the sale of the two properties had been discussed with the town council before a decision was taken by Waveney.
'I have been asked for the minutes of the discussion but they have never been provided,' she said. 'There are ways to do create more social housing in Southwold but it needs to be done with pro-active leadership from the town council supported by Waveney District Council.
Robert Prince, Waveney's head of strategic housing and tenant services, said: 'The main problem with the provision of new affordable housing in Southwold is the lack of suitable land for building.
'Waveney District Council is working closely with the town council to identify opportunities for new build and we have plans to work together on a number of initiatives which may lead to the building of several new homes in the resort.'
In the last 10 years, fewer than ten homes have been sold in Southwold under the Right-to-Buy scheme.