‘Ticking time bomb’ as Sidmouth gets older

Paul Wright

Paul Wright - Credit: Archant

A ‘demographic time bomb’ threatens the Sid Valley as the number of over-85s is expected to increase by nearly 60 per cent.

Father-of-four and town councillor Paul Wright has warned that the decline in the proportion of younger people needs to be reversed.

He said Sidmouth College, care homes and the town’s hospital are already struggling to recruit staff, yet the majority of properties being proposed are for retirees.

He argues that East Devon District Council (EDDC) has a duty to create a balanced community and ensure there is sufficient housing for young people – or there will be no one to care for the valley’s ageing population.

The Cotmaton Road resident cited figures showing that the under-40s population is forecast to shrink by five per cent over the next 13 years, while the number of over-85s is expected to increase by nearly 60 per cent.

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“New retirement accommodation in Sidmouth is going to make matters worse,” said Mr Wright, who represents the south ward on Sidmouth Town Council. “We can’t rely on commuters from surrounding towns filling the gap, either – Ottery St Mary and Honiton have a similar demographic time bomb facing them.

“This rapidly changing population mix in Sidmouth is going to have long-term repercussions in the valley as hotels, restaurants, shops and care homes struggle for staff.

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“Residents will suffer when the services they require cannot be provided due to lack of staff.

“Sidmouth needs housing for a mix of different age groups, for families and for young people starting out.”

The website designer decided to speak out after three articles in last week’s Herald highlighted the issue:

? Sidmouth College principal Kenny Duncan saying the shrinking pupil population means he is having to lay off staff;

? Plans for a 9.3-acre business park between Sidford and Sidbury that could create 300 jobs;

? And PegasusLife’s planning application for 115 retirement homes at Knowle.

“The district council has a duty to create a balanced community, by ensuring housing is appropriate for the long-term needs of the residents,” said Mr Wright. “Affordable housing is not reserved for young people, and at a rate of 50 per cent, will not begin to close the age gap.

“We can’t make house prices lower, but we can ensure that the new homes built are not reserved for the retired.”

An EDDC spokeswoman said the council was ‘fully aware that there is a massive gap’ between average incomes and house prices across much of the district, and it was doing what it could to maximise the amount of ‘affordable’ housing. Policies in the new Local Plan meant it was collecting contributions for ‘affordable’ homes from all housing schemes where this was viable.

Councillor Jill Elson, EDDC’s portfolio holder for sustainable homes and communities, said: “Reductions in the housing benefits that are now being paid are making the delivery of affordable homes even more difficult as tenants are less able to pay their rent. The current situation is of great concern to the council, but we are doing everything we can with the limited powers and resources that we have.

“I firmly believe we should be providing affordable homes for either to rent or to purchase because we have a low-wage economy.”

She said the Government’s Help to Buy scheme had been successful in Cranbrook and EDDC currently had a project in Exmouth to provide a shared house for a number of young people in housing need in the town.

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