How new homes are needed to stop young people leaving north Norfolk

Timber framework of house roof trusses with scaffold on a building being built

North Norfolk District Council chief executive talks housing needs - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

More new homes are needed to stop the exodus of young people in north Norfolk, a council chief executive has said.

Steve Blatch, chief executive of North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), said the authority was doing everything it could to improve the stock of affordable homes amid fears from many that local families are being priced out of the area.

And, he stressed that developments are a thought-through process - not done on a whim.

North Norfolk has the second-highest rate of second and holiday homes in the country, with 6,697 (11.6pc of total housing stock) second homes registered in the district in 2020

Steve Blatch, corporate director at North Norfolk District Council

Steve Blatch, corporate director at North Norfolk District Council - Credit: Archant

“Certainly in north Norfolk the housing need is quite acute in terms of very strong demand for second and holiday homes," Mr Blatch said.

“The market is also driven by retiring incomers who are perhaps downsizing or moving from Essex or Hertfordshire and have capital at their disposal which is able to outbid many local people on local average salaries.  

“That is what we are seeking to address through the scale of growth which we face.” 

Mr Blatch said the biggest issue was not attracting young people to north Norfolk but keeping the ones they do have.

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He said: “There is an increasing gap between what the local economy, which is dependent upon tourism, social care, local services provision with fewer higher value jobs in science and technology or creative sectors digital sectors, so lots of young people leave the district for job opportunities and possibly cheaper housing.” 

The majority of future growth in north Norfolk is proposed for Fakenham and North Walsham - inland areas, less environmentally constrained, where additional school places or health facilities can be provided. 

Mr Blatch said they always try to have an eye on the future, pointing to Fakenham doctor’s surgery which was built 10 years ago with the future growth of the town in mind. 

NNDC has plans for around 10,000 homes to be built up to 2036 in the local plan, around 500-600 properties a year on allocated and windfall sites – spaces that become available unexpectedly. 

One option for addressing local families being priced out of north Norfolk is by giving them the option for first-refusal on properties, which developers have promised for 24 affordable homes proposed in Sheringham.

Something the local MP, Duncan Baker, called "innovative and crucial" for addressing local housing need.

Mr Blatch said the current local plan, which is in the process of being updated, already has a 'rural exceptions policy', which applies to small-scale village social rent or shared-ownership developments so they go to people with a family, work or historic connection first.

How the affordable housing would look at the planned West Wood development off Weybourne Road, Sheringham. 

How the affordable housing would look at the planned West Wood development off Weybourne Road, Sheringham. - Credit: Supplied by the developer

However, Mr Blatch acknowledged two constraints on north Norfolk development - coastal erosion and the area of outstanding natural beauty covering a third of the district.

He said these factors limit the ability to build new houses, putting a premium on house prices.

"We are seeing reduced school rolls, we're seeing some employment issues around whether hotels and tourism businesses can attract the workforce they need, and so all of these things are playing into that planning process."

In response to comments online suggesting that councillors and planners received "rustling brown envelopes", Mr Blatch said this was demeaning to democracy and the hard work of planning officers.

He stressed that allocated sites for development, set out in the local plan, are the result of a long process to ensure they are not speculative. 

"I know that lots of people are fearful of the scale of development. The government is saying that we need 300,000 new homes a year across the country and asks local planning authorities to make a provision which contributes to that," he said.

Mr Blatch pointed to recent consent given to 900 homes in Fakenham, which he said had been in the local plan since 2008 as an example of long term thinking. 

"I accepted that the scale of development is still challenging to some people and it is right that they have the opportunity to question and ask for justification," he added.