IN his opening address to the House of Lords, the Bishop of Exeter highlighted the need for ‘systemic change’ to tackle the housing crisis in rural and coastal communities. 

Opening the House of Lords debate, the Rt. Rev’d Robert Atwell, said: ‘The demand for social housing in rural areas is growing at ten times the rate of that in towns and cities.

‘In Devon, with the current rate of net additions to affordable housing stock, even if housing waiting lists closed tomorrow, it would still take over 32 years to clear the backlog.’

Bishop Robert also said that the number of rental properties available in the county had fallen below 700. The number of holiday lets on the other hand, was over 15,000.

On this point, Rev’d Robert Atwell, said: 'Too often local people are forced out of areas where their families have lived for generations, fracturing their support networks to the detriment of individuals, families and whole communities. Tourism is an important industry.

'No one begrudges those who have the privilege of choice enjoying the countryside and fabulous coastline. But without systemic change, including regulating the AirBnb industry, our rural and coastal communities will be hollowed out.'

He pointed to Salcombe as a chilling example, where the Lifeboat service struggle to recruit new volunteers due to the lack of actual residents.

A report from the Universities of Kent and Southampton notes the dramatic rise of homelessness in rural areas with a 24% increase in rough sleeping in the last year alone. However, the Rt. Rev’d Robert Atwell noted that rural and coastal areas often fall through the cracks in our national data gathering.

He added: ''Research by the Rural Services Network shows that if our rural communities were aggregated into one region, then its need for ‘levelling up’ would be greater than any other region in the UK. It is why the current housing crisis merits action, not just sympathy.'

The bishop also accused the government of falling ‘woefully short’ of its own affordable housing targets.

On the same day, the Government’s Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, also gave a speech, setting out reforms to tackle the housing crisis. However, Gove’s reforms will focus on urban, rather than rural areas.

The Diocese of Exeter runs across Devon and is among the largest rural dioceses in England, including a number of coastal communities.

He concluded: 'Heaven is Devon, but the picture postcard view of rural life is only half the story. This housing crisis is not restricted to a few beauty spots, and I believe it is not something the market can solve, as some seem to think.

'The absence of housing supply, the diversity of people’s needs and the immense pressure in the system mean that neither the market, nor any single organisation or individual can make the difference that we all long to see.

'Without partnership and systemic change, the spiral of deprivation will become more acute. 

‘We need cross-departmental working and cross-party agreement to forge a coherent long-term strategy that will secure good housing and the flourishing of our rural and coastal communities.’

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