Study to look at why new built homes are not solving Cornwall housing crisis

A new study is looking into whether the new houses being built in Cornwall have made a difference to the housing crisis
A new study is looking into whether the new houses being built in Cornwall have made a difference to the housing crisis -Credit:Greg Martin / Cornwall Live

Building new homes "like there's no tomorrow" has not helped Cornwall's housing crisis and now researchers want to know why. Professor Malcolm Williams, from The Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus, believes the thousands of new homes Cornwall has been told by various governments it must build appear not to have made much of a difference.

Cornwall Council has been told that by 2030 some 48,645 new houses must be built. Anyone driving around the county will have seen housing developments spring out of the ground, not just on the periphery of the larger towns but in villages too.

A majority of these new houses are open market and most are filling in with new occupants. Yet for Prof Williams and his team, there seems to be a gap between new houses and a housing crisis when one might think that building new houses ought to alleviate the problem.

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He said that high house prices and a shortage of accommodation are causing severe issues in Cornwall. The popularity of Cornwall as a major tourist destination, site of second homes and a popular area for relocation from other parts of Britain where house prices have in the past been considerably higher have made it harder for those on lower incomes to buy in the county. These factors have all influenced the housing market and put pressure on families and communities to find affordable housing.

He added: "In Cornwall we have been building houses like there is no tomorrow but in spite of that we still have this massive housing crisis. It doesn't seem to be helping the crisis of affordability and availability we see in the Duchy.

"We want to know who lives in those new houses. We want to look at the new housing developments from the last 10 years across Cornwall and look at these people's stories, where they come from, whether it is from within Cornwall or outside the county.

"We conducted a study last year on housing affordability and the affordability gap in Cornwall is massive. It is much bigger than anywhere else in the country. It means that people on middle income and wages cannot afford to buy or rent. Both the Conservative and Labour Governments in the past have said that if you build more houses you will solve the housing crisis. We have been doing this already but it has not solved anything."

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He said that Cornwall is different from neighbouring counties. While places like Devon have large urban centres with a wider housing market, Cornwall is more homogenous meaning the problems are the same everywhere.

Prof Williams said that if you live in the South East and sell a house for say £1m you might be able to buy a similar sized house in Cornwall and have plenty of money left over, something you can't do if you are on Cornwall's average wages apart from areas like Camborne, Saltash or the Clay Country around St Austell. Yet in those areas there is a lack of housing stock.

The survey will launch in a couple of weeks and will target 5,000 households in Cornwall. The first preliminary results are expected by July and the full results by the autumn. Prof Williams said the aim of the study which will be compared with a similar study carried by the former Cornwall County Council in the 1980s, is to influence policymakers at Cornwall Council. Respondents will have the opportunity to complete an easy-to-use electronic survey accessed via a QR code or a paper survey version.

According to the local authority's own figures the average house price in Cornwall is £300,974. There are 27,407 households on the social and affordable housing register while there are 13,140 second homes in the county and 2,610 long-term empty homes.

Building new homes may be good news for the construction sector but it has its detractors. In 2023 CPRE Cornwall said plans for 47,500 new homes in the county by 2030 was ‘an invasion’ of the countryside. At the time, the organisation warned that at the current rate of growth, the built-up part of Cornwall will double within this generation’s lifetime. In a report CPRE Cornwall said the number of houses proposed in Cornwall Council’s draft local plan is the equivalent of 4.2 Penzances, 5.1 Cambornes, 5.3 Truros and 10.7 Liskeards.

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In a blog post published in October last year, Mark Dawes, MD of CAD Architects, argued in favour of new builds, saying that while the construction industry was committed to biodiversity net gain, it was important to realise that new houses are needed because the population is growing.

He wrote: "Of course, we need rigour in assessment of the impact of development, we need to protect our wild and open spaces, the industry is committed to biodiversity net gain, but the reach and power of these blocker organisations paralyses the delivery of housing. It is not uncommon for a housing site to take two or more years to achieve planning consent.

"The first change that must occur at every level of society is an acceptance that our population will inexorably increase."

"In Cornwall in 2021 there were 4,834 births, new Cornish people who in 23 or 24 years or less will need a home. The next plan stretches to 2050, so do the maths. We also have inward migration from those seeking a better life. We have divorce at unprecedented levels splitting families and increasing housing need. We also have an aging population with people living longer. As a consequence, we must adequately plan to accommodate, employ and entertain those new people.

"In accepting continuous unstoppable change, we free ourselves to plan adequately for such change. In making proper fully developed plans of adequate capacity we can ensure the infrastructure is in place in time to support such change. We can protect that which is worthy and important to protect, and we build cohesive sustainable communities."

Prof Williams said he hopes his research will help provide some of the answers to the housing debate. He added: "We hope the answers to the survey will help show if building more housing will help, and if so what type of housing. The answers will help us understand the housing and associated characteristics of people who have moved into newly built housing.

"For example, are their characteristics the same or different to households in older housing? How was affordability achieved? How far are they into their housing careers? What proportion of residents are first time buyers, either in ‘affordable’ properties, or those sold on the open market?"

Councillor Andrew George, the Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate for St Ives and West Cornwall and housing justice campaigner, is calling for housing justice and to reverse tax loopholes which he says has permitted over £500 million of taxpayers money to be given to wealthy property investors of holiday homes in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly to the detriment of local families in desperate need of secure affordable homes of their own.

He said that the planning system is “fuelled by greed rather than need” and that his campaigns are “not the politics of envy, but the politics of simple social justice”, adding: "The momentum behind the campaign for housing justice is growing. Although the Conservatives were shamed into making announcements that they would do something about the injustices that they themselves created, virtually nothing has happened. We must hope that, after the next general election, there will be more fertile ground on which to put first homes before second homes, and to create an environment in which need comes before greed in the planning and development system."

Cllr Olly Monk, Conservative Cornwall Council portfolio holder for housing, said: "We all know that Cornwall continues to experience extreme and unprecedented pressures on housing, which is largely due to an imbalance in housing supply and demand.

"Nationally, there has been a significant reduction in the availability of homes and a matched escalation in housing costs exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.

"Finding out more about those who are living in new homes and how they achieved their goal will help us to compare between the historic and current contexts and examine how that data might help in planning for the future."