Social housing plea at Saxonvale. Letter from Bob Ashford, Chair of Trustees

SAXONVALE DEVELOPMENT

Frome Town Council are holding a public meeting to help local residents understand the detail of the proposed development at Saxonvale.

Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting which will be held at The Assembly Rooms on 13 June from 6:30 -8:30pm.

 

https://www.frometowncouncil.gov.uk/get-the-latest-on-saxonvale-development/

PLEASE SEE BELOW THE LETTER FROM BOB ASHFORD, FAIR FROME CHAIR

2nd June 2019

Dear Councillor Sprawson-White

Re Publicly Owned Land at Saxonvale Frome

As I am sure you know Fair Frome is a local Frome based charity established 5 years ago to address issues of poverty and deprivation in the town. Since then Fair Frome has worked with other local agencies, both statutory and voluntary to identify where need exists and to try to ameliorate that need, through the provision of projects designed to offer practical support and improve community cohesion. To this end we run the local Food Bank, the Furniture Bank, and have in recent months at the request of local Head Teachers started running Holiday Hunger Events to provide hot meals to children and families during school holidays when Free school Meals aren’t available. We have now extended this to term time as well with our Food at Five project which means we now provide 3 hot meals per week all year.

We run these projects because whilst Frome is a relatively prosperous town it is also a high cost town in which to live. We know from our Food Bank uptake that poverty is a real issue in Frome. Recent government poverty indices show that Market Ward in Frome for instance, is within the 20% most deprived neighbourhoods in England. We also know from talking to food bank users, our own statistics and our local partners that the introduction of Universal Credit, the freeze on welfare benefits and the low wage/zero hours nature of local employment, have all had an even more profound impact in the last few years- increasing inequality and poverty levels in the town.

One of our main concerns, and the reason for writing this letter, is the lack of social housing in Frome for those on low incomes or who are reliant on benefits. The interest in Frome in recent years on a national level, the surfeit of articles in the national press advertising Frome as an ideal place to live and holiday have led to a boom in house prices and rentals. The impact on poorer members of our town has been immense, pushing them further into poverty or forcing them to leave the town and their supporting community for other more affordable areas. This is to make the town poorer for all of us. BBC figures on house prices and trends up until the end of 2017 for instance: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41582755 show that Frome house prices have risen significantly above the national average in the past years. If we look at Market Ward again, for instance up until 2011 house prices were stagnant or falling as they were across Frome. If, however we just look at the 6-year figure since 2011, inflation adjusted increases are 36% (nearly 6% a year above inflation) in that ward. This in turn has triggered a significant increase in rental affordability. The rise in popularity of Frome as a “destination” has also led to an increase in accommodation being taken off the long-term rental market for short term holiday lets. Airbnb for instance now list over 300 short term rentals in Frome.

All this leads us to the increasing need for public sector housing in Frome. One of the main barriers to local authorities in building public sector housing in partnership or alone is the availability of land. We are aware that the land at Saxonvale, which is in public ownership is to be developed. We see this as an opportunity to develop a significant scheme for social housing and so address some of the issues outlined above as part of a wider development. We have become aware of announcements from the previous administration at Mendip Council of the wish to include “Affordable Housing” and Mendips own target of 30% affordable Housing in new developments. However, this is significantly different from Social Housing as it includes Part- Ownership etc which is outside of the reach of the people whose needs we are trying to address. We would therefore ask you to consider the need to work with a local partner, or in house to create a scheme which goes well beyond the statutory requirement for social housing and provides a solution which would benefit those in most need and at the same time increase social cohesion.

Many local councils have found innovative ways to achieve this in recent years:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/21/councils-pledge-to-exploit-end-to-borrowing-cap-to-build-homes

We would be happy to discuss this further as I am sure our local partners would. The Saxonvale development though, does offer a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to rebalance the nature of our town for the benefit of all. We should take it.

Yours Sincerely

Bob Ashford

On behalf of the Trustees, Fair Frome

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