Wales

Housing rules 'price teachers and NHS staff out of community'

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Media captionNia Ferris has been told she will not be able to live in her house after receiving a pay rise

Affordable housing rules should be changed to help attract key public sector workers to rural communities, an MP has said.

In Gwynedd only local people on lower incomes can rent or buy affordable homes, under planning rules.

MP Liz Saville Roberts said this meant key sector workers, like teachers and NHS workers, could not "live in the communities they serve".

The council said its policy was helping people to buy in their communities.

Affordable housing policies are aimed at ensuring local people on lower incomes, who may otherwise be priced out, are able to buy homes in their cities, towns and villages.

House prices on the open market in Llanengan are driven by the market in nearby Abersoch, where the average house price was £447,589 last year, according to housing website Rightmove.

The area is known as the "second home capital" of north Wales. A beach hut alone could set you back over £100,000.

But Ms Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said it was "impossible" for many local people, to build or buy homes in rural areas due to high house prices.

She said key sector workers, like teachers or police officers, who may earn more than the cut off income for affordable housing, could not live in the communities they served and rules need to be changed.


Image caption Head teacher Nia Ferris claims she cannot afford to buy a home in her village, but is not eligible for affordable housing

When brother and sister Dylan and Megan Roberts were gifted a plot of land in their village of Llanengan on the Llyn Peninsula they decided to build two family homes for them and their partners.

But after builder Dylan's partner, Nia Ferris was promoted to headteacher at a nearby school, they were told they could no longer live in the homes.

This is because Gwynedd council granted them planning permission for the development of two affordable family houses and Ms Ferris will earn more than the affordable housing threshold of £45,000 a year.

"We are two young couples, we have been living here for more than 10 years and we just want to stay here," she said.

"The choice I have after building the house is to either cut down on my hours or change my occupation and I'm not in a position to do that."

Image caption Megan Roberts said she would be heartbroken if she had to leave the village where she grew up

The couples say they have also struggled to get a mortgage to build the properties, due to a planning condition which means the value of the homes will be cut if they are put up for sale as affordable homes.

The two three-bed houses would have a likely value of £370,000 if they were put on the market, but would need a 60% discount to meet the current affordable threshold of £142,000.

"Nearly all my family live there, my brother, my mother, father, my grandmother, said Megan, who works at a nearby GP surgery and grew up in Llanengan.

"It would be really heartbreaking to leave because I was brought up there, went to school there and I'd like my children in future to have that opportunity, to live in the village and be raised there."


Image caption Liz Saville Roberts said that it was "impossible" for local people to buy properties in the area

In Wales, rules differ depending on where you live, with councils setting planning policies depending on the needs of local communities.

The Welsh Government issued guidance on giving consideration to workers who provide "essential services" to local communities, when setting affordable housing policies, but councils do not have to adhere to this as it is not law.

In parts of England, including London, "key sector" worker schemes are in place to help teachers, doctors and paramedics to live in the communities where they work.

Ms Saville Roberts said the current rules in Gwynedd were not working in an area with high house prices, which needed head teachers and public sector workers.

"We find it very difficult in this county, particularly in rural areas, to be able to appoint people to certain public sector jobs," she said.

"This raises the question, are we planning for our community needs in future?

"If people cannot live in the communities which they serve, then we must look again at the policy to see how suitable it is."

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Media captionThe creative solutions to a lack of house affordability

Gwynedd council said its affordable housing policy has worked very successfully to ensure affordable housing for people who are eligible, including key workers.

But it said while it recognised the couples' desire to build and live in the houses, allowing them without the 60% discount, would mean it had no control over whether the homes would be affordable if sold on the open market.

"The council is not aware of any difficulties the applicants have experienced in obtaining a loan, but the planning committee report did note that this could have the potential to cause a problem in securing a loan," a spokesman said.

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