[P]AUL STAINTON: Leasing a house in the private rental market got a whole lot more expensive for people living in parts of Cambridgeshire last year. Last year rents in Cambridge rose by nearly £50 a month, and in East Cambridgeshire they rose by £30. A report from the housing charity Shelter says people are having to paybout so much money for rent they can’t save up for a home of their own, leaving them stuck in what they’re calling a rent trap. Kate Webb is Senior Policy Adviser at Shelter. She says the local authorities should offer tenants longer contracts, and crack down on rogue landlords. (TAPE)
KATE WEBB: So many more people are renting. Everyone’s squeezed down the ladder a little bit. We are seeing more examples of what we term rogue landlords, and this is really really dangerous practices going on at the sharp end of the rental market. And we do think local authorities could be doing a lot more to crack down on rogue landlords. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Rents reflect house prices, and this is an incredibly very expensive place to live. as we’ve heard many times before. So what is the solution? Well councils across the county are doing their bit to help. In Peterborough the City Council launched a mortgage scheme in which the authority helps first time buyers get on the ladder. East Cambridgeshire District Council is also trying to help with its own solutions, called Community Land Trusts. And our reporter Dotty McLeod is in Stretham this morning to find out more about it. Morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Good morning Paul. Yes, well many people might have zoomed past Stretham on the A10 on the way in to Cambridge, or maybe from Cambridge into Ely. But if you haven’t dropped by, it’s a lovely little village. It’s quite small, but it’s got its own shop, its own pub, a church, a primary school, and we’re sheltering right now, on the High Street in the bus shelter, because there’s a good old drizzle on this morning. Now I had a quick look before I came out this morning at average rental prices in Stretham, just on an estate agency website, and for a three bed bungalow Paul you’re looking at about £750 a month, and this is a village that’s twelve miles from Cambridge, about four miles from Ely. For a four bed detached house it’s £1,100 a month, so pretty expensive for the location. Joining me now are Charles Roberts and Bill Hunt. Both are Conservative District Councillors. Charles is also Chair of the local Parish Council, and Bill is also a County Councillor . So we’ve got all the different kinds of councils covered this morning. Now Charles, starting with you, what is a Community Land Trust, this idea you’ve got to try to help the village help people on low incomes?
CHARLES ROBERTS: I think the best way to describe it is a housing association for the village, owned by the village, to benefit the village. It’s a local structure. It’s in fact set up as an Industrial and Provident Society, so it’s a structure that’s owned by the community. Everyone in the village can buy a share in it for a pound, so it’s genuinely local. It has local interest, local folk. It’s delivering a local need. It’s administered by local people, people living in the village of Stretham and Wilburton.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And Bill, how do you think the need for something like this has arisen in Cambridgeshire?
BILL HUNT: Well Cambridgeshire as you know is the fastest growing county in the country. And we’re going to continue with this growth with the new railway station in Cambridge and all the broadband and everything else. This is going to make Cambridge a real success. But of course it’s going to put house prices up in this area. We don’t want anyone left behind, and we think it’s essential for the fiuture that everybody, not just the well-paid, have a future in their local communities.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Charles, explain exactly how it would work. So if Stretham has fields on the outside which are ripe for some housing, but at the moment you can’t get planning consent to build on them because they’re Green Belt, so how does the Community Land Trust take control of that land?
CHARLES ROBERTS: Ok. What we’ve done as a District Council is to put a new planning policy in place called Community Led development. And it enables communities to identify land around their community that might be suitable for building. And in consultation with the full planning team at the District Council, they prioritise this, site and suitability. We work with the landowners, we see those most interested in bringing their land forward for development. And then the landowner will work jointly with the Community Land Trust to put together a planning application to build on that land, which is otherwise outside the development envelope. Upon grant of planning consent, a proportion of that land transfers to the Community Land Trust, and the landowner and the developer is left with an increase in the value of his land. And a share of that comes in cash to the Community Land Trust as well. So the Land Trust on the one hand gets building plots. And on the other hand it gets cash as well to build its houses.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And how affordable will these rents really be? Because sometimes when some people say affordable, it doesn’t really mean truly affordable.
CHARLES ROBERTS: Well that’s right. And I think this is a very important point, that because this is locally led, the Community Land Trust and the Board of Trustees will have complete flexibility on the rents. So they’d be able to set the rents at levels that are genuinely affordable, not perhaps 80% of the £750/800/900 a month you refer to, which frankly, 80% of that still isn’t affordable. So they will be set at genuinely affordable levels.
DOTTU MCLEOD: So a test case here in Stretham and Wilburton. But could it be the first of many Community Land Trusts across the county? (STUDIO)
PAUL STAINTON: It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? Dotty, thank you for that. Well listening to that was Stretham employer and Parish Councillor Keir Petherick from F.C.Palmer and Sons, who own a 3,000 acre arable farm. Morning.
KEIR PETHERICK: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Good news for the village?
KEIR PETHERICK: Yes I think it certainly is really. It’s a big benefit. We’ve got a number of employees, some of which live locally, and some which are travelling large distances. And it becomes quite unaffordable. More people live in this area, but it’s quite a stretch at times to pay some of the rents, and certainly the property prices, so people are then having to travel much further distances away and moving further into the Wisbech and Kings Lynn area.
PAUL STAINTON: You’ve had your own ad hoc solution for your staff, haven’t you?
KEIR PETHERICK: Yes. We’ve got some houses on the farm, which employees live in. But we haven’t got enough houses for how many employees we now have. So we need more and more housing, and people are having to travel from further away. With the oil price etcetera, everyone wants to live closer to where they work.
PAUL STAINTON: When you say travelling, where are your staff coming from?
KEIR PETHERICK: We’ve got some from Kings Lynn, some from Wisbech, some from Chatteris.
PAUL STAINTON: Kings Lynn. That’s a heck of a way, isn’t it, really?
KEIR PETHERICK: Yes. The individual that’s travelling that distance it’s forty five minutes each way, every day. So it’s early in the morning and later on in the evenings that the traffic’s a little better. But it’s still a considerable distance, and a considerable cost.
PAUL STAINTON: And what’s the impact on you and your business? I suppose that finding staff’s quite difficult, is it?
KEIR PETHERICK: It can be difficult to find the right skill set. Yes. Because agriculture is becoming very mechanised. You need people who are familiar with those types of machinery. It’s an increasingly complicated issue in terms of trying to find staff.
PAUL STAINTON: And in these difficult times, when you’re trying to earn as much money as possible, messing about with housing is not something you want to be doing, is it?
KEIR PETHERICK: Not really no, nor for the individuals, and also the travelling. So yes. The Community Land Trust, we’ve put forward solutions which some of our staff hopefully will be able to apply for some of thsoe properties, which would work incredibly well. We’ve got some real interest within.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s brilliant. That will be good, won’t it? And it’s nice to know they’re interested, and hopefully will help solve or go some way towards solving that problem.