A plan showing the proposed affordable homes site (square, in red border) and Parracombe’s historic settlement. The blue arrows show key viewpoints around the village.
After good progress during the autumn of 2021 Parracombe Community Trust’s affordable housing plans for local people have moved frustratingly slowly.
We were hoping by now to have received our second grant of approximately £41,000 from the government’s Community Housing Fund, administered by North Devon Council. This money is needed to pay for the second stage of our project off Parracombe Lane and will allow us to submit a planning application to Exmoor National Park Authority. Unfortunately, NDC has insufficient funds to meet the needs of all affordable housing projects in its district.
While this sounds like bad news it is certainly not all doom and gloom. We’re confident that NDC remains supportive of what we’re trying to do in Parracombe and we believe we will be back on track soon.
Why has our second stage grant been delayed?
The main reason is that central government’s latest £4 million allocation to England’s Community Housing Fund was exhausted soon after it launched last year and many local authorities were left with a shortfall. As a result, North Devon Council is having to choose which of its supported affordable housing projects can continue to receive funding in 2022. Parracombe is one of these projects.
Our main advantage is that most of our feasibility studies – topography, engineering aboriculture, groundworks and ecology – are already complete. We also have a supportive and patient landowner, excellent professional advisers, a community which is regularly informed and consulted and ENPA planners who appreciate that we are acting responsibly and doing ‘everything by the book’. Our project is well advanced and – importantly – both ENPA and North Devon Council recognise they have a pressing duty to address the risible levels of affordable housing within the national park and, specifically, Parracombe and its surrounding parishes.
Our main disadvantage is that we’re seeking £10,000 more than we originally bid for. This is because in addition to architectural, engineering, planning and legal fees, ENPA planners have advised that a desktop aerial photo analysis has revealed traces of a medieval field system near our site. They therefore require a full archaeological survey.
We also need a formal Landscape Visual Impact Assessment and a traffic speed survey on Parracombe Lane. Our architect carried out a thorough informal LVIA but we did not realise we would need an ‘official’ study prior to submitting a planning application. The speed survey requirement emerged after we had placed our bid for second stage funding. We are navigating here a maze of planning protocols and public sector funding streams and we’re learning as we go.
To be clear though, we are not whingeing about any of the above requirements. As far as the speed survey is concerned many villagers feel through traffic drives too fast and anything which might slow it down will be welcome. And we’ve always been determined to deliver a development that respects Exmoor National Park Authority’s duty to protect a precious environment. Our job is to help find an acceptable compromise between this duty and the urgent need to provide affordable housing for local people.
The good news is that North Devon Council has agreed in principle to prioritise its remaining CHF money for Community Trust’s, like ours, to spend on feasibility and planning costs. This recommendation is still awaiting final approval and councillors have to consider all the budgetary implications. But the Council’s position is heartening and hopefully means our project will be back on track in a matter of weeks.
While this delay is unfortunate we can still get on with legal work, such as a draft site lease agreement and investigation of title, because this is already funded by our first stage grant. We have also applied for a speed survey licence from Devon Highways so that we can hit the ground running, so to speak, once our second stage grant is released.
We never expected our project to be easy. We always knew issues would arise because any development in a national park deserves very careful thought and planning. We ’ll give you all a further update as soon as we have some news. In the meantime, if you are a local person in housing need, please do remember to register your interest in the six Parracombe Homes with Devon Home Choice here:
Nick Constable, Parracombe Community Trust Housing Committee