House prices hit home for Cornish MP

Cornwall’s house price problem hit the headlines again today, with news that local MP Stephen Gilbert can’t afford to buy a house in his constituency.

Mr Gilbert, MP for St Austell and Newquay, put his PR skills to good use by using his own circumstances to highlight the problems faced by locals who have no hope of saving for a 20% deposit in high value areas like Cornwall.

He said today: “This isn’t a ‘woe-is-me’ plea – that would be nonsense. But if I am in this position, finding it hard to save for the deposit for a mortgage to become a first-time-buyer, there must be lots of other people in a similar predicament.”

Leaving aside the £65,000-a-year headlines, he’s right to talk about the problem: Cornwall has the lowest average incomes in the country and the highest house prices, more than 15 times most people’s salaries in some areas. Those who can afford to buy are often ‘second home’ owners, who are reported to account for 10% of the local population.

He calls for better use of empty homes as one way of addressing the issue. Building more new affordable housing would help too, and the HCA is one organisation which has invested significantly in this area in recent years.

From this adversity comes some inspired community-driven solutions too. A self build scheme at St Minver, backed by a local Community Land Trust, is helping local people address the  problem. Self build is something I’ve been contemplating recently too.

Maybe though, as Michael Portillo suggested to the CIH South West conference last Friday, a fall in house prices would help Cornwall too?

Any of these is part of the solution, but probably can’t crack Cornwall’s crisis on its own. I’m sure local people like Mr Gilbert don’t need me to tell them that though.