Ambitious scheme to build homes in Midhurst

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A ground breaking community led initiative is being set up to build desperately needed houses for people on low incomes in Midhurst.

It is the brainchild of Chichester district and town councillor Gordon McAra. Leading the project with him is fellow town councillor David Coote. They have brought retired investment specialist Adrian Moore on board to chair the new group.

They want to set up a Community Land Trust (CLT), owned and controlled by the community which would find sites, finance, build and offer permanently affordable housing.

Outlining the scheme to members of Midhurst Town Council Cllr McAra said: “The state of housing is currently painful in Midhurst and we need to do something about it.”

He said the town had a major problem with the lack of supply of either low cost housing to buy or rent.

“Outside London it has one of the highest income to house price ratios in the UK, where even affordable housing rents have to be supported by housing benefits for many people.

“The difficulties of living and working can be seen by the temporary closure of a ward at the community hospital, partly because nurses cannot afford to buy or rent in the area.

“Similarly Midhurst Rother Academy has had some difficulty in attracting younger teachers because of the cost of housing both to rent and to buy.”

A CLT was able to offer much lower rents and could apply its own application criteria, he said.

The scheme was born out of Cllr McAra and Mr Coote’s talks with the South Downs National Park over its emerging Local Plan which has identified the housing need.

Mr Moore told the meeting: “This is only going to work if we can find cheap land somewhere. If we can get near agricultural prices and persuade planners to give us consents, it is going to happen and there are possibilities in the area.”

He said he was looking for people with specialist knowledge such as architects, lawyers and accountants to join the land trust.

There were, he said a number of sources of funding to meet initial costs. Building costs could be funded through loans or by leasing land to housing associations who would develop sites.

There were already two pieces of land the trust wanted to investigate, he said.

Midhurst town councillors welcomed the initiative and agreed to support it. But they stressed they had no financial or resource commitment to the CLT.

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