Shortage of housing is a big issue in the southern half of the UK and it is especially severe in Cornwall. At the same time the building of houses is often controversial and resisted by those living near proposed house building sites. One of the more absurd claims make against house building in Cornwall is that affordable homes in Cornwall are bought up by Northern councils such as Birmingham and Manchester. This piece of 'fake news' arose in 2016 and it has re-emerged recently (rebutted by Manchester Council here). The assertions were rebutted in detail last year by the responsible Cornwall Council Cabinet Members and their letter is repeated below:
Affordable homes are built for local people.
Following the comments made by UKIP candidate Graham Calderwood in a recent edition of the West Briton we feel compelled to respond, once again, to the persistent rumours and allegations that affordable homes in Cornwall are being bought by other local authorities to use for families in housing need. The rumours typically state that homes are being bought by Northern councils, such as Birmingham and Manchester City Councils. These allegations are not only wholly without foundation but lack any common sense.
In terms of affordable homes to rent (which are the majority of affordable homes), all of them are let by Cornwall Council and its housing association partners through a single housing register called Homechoice. To be eligible to bid for an affordable rented home through Homechoice, applicants must have a connection to Cornwall and be living here.
For newly built affordable homes, there is an even greater restriction. This is because each new development is controlled by a legal agreement known as a Section 106 agreement. This is legally binding on the land. The standard agreement for Cornwall states that all occupants must have a local connection to Cornwall and priority is always first given to those living and working in the relevant parish or town. In some rural areas, this might be a group of local parishes. The Council has nomination rights to these properties and they are let through Homechoice. Affordable homes to buy are also controlled by the same local connection rule. Eligibility is checked by the Council and its partners.
Because the Council have these controls in place on all affordable homes, it is not possible for any other local authority to have any access to these homes or indeed to buy them directly.
Are there any exceptions? In a tiny minority of cases (2.74% of lettings last year) occupants may not have the full local connection. This is because the Government require the Council to accept some types of move between areas. This includes people leaving the armed forces and those fleeing domestic violence. But this is about individual families and specific cases and it is still Cornwall Council which assesses eligibility.
Cornwall Council is fully committed to delivering affordable homes for local people in housing need and invests considerable time and funding to do so. In this time of extreme budget pressures, it is ridiculous to believe that the Council would invest these resources into something which would not benefit local people. The Council has a legal duty to meet the housing needs of its own community. It does not have the same legal duty to others.
It is perhaps worth noting that such allegations have not arisen in relation to one single housing development, but are now made for many new developments built across Cornwall. The same Northern councils are referred to each time. These areas are attractive places to live in their own right. But in addition, their housing costs are typically much lower than in Cornwall. They are also often areas with an oversupply of housing. It does not make any sense to suggest that these councils, with plenty of homes available in their own areas at a lower price, would buy housing in Cornwall.
As an example, recent allegations have been made in St Ives. Of the 50 affordable rented homes let in St Ives between January 2013 and December 2014, 46 were let to households with a local connection to St Ives and 100% (all 50) were let to those with a local connection to Cornwall.
Across Cornwall, since 01/01/2013, 97.26% of all properties and 99.52% of all new build affordable rent properties went to applicants with a Cornwall Connection.
We are disappointed that these kinds of allegations continue to circulate but would strongly encourage anyone or any organisation who seeks to perpetuate them to produce the evidence.
Joyce Duffin, Cabinet Member for Housing and Environment
Edwina Hannaford, Cabinet Member for Planning