Lack of family homes causes house prices to soar

A map of the River Walk renovations

A shortage of family homes in Tonbridge has resulted in a sharp increase in property prices, with average house values rising by at least £40,000 in the area over the past three months.

The town has seen a surge in one and two bed-room apartment-style developments during the last five years and these properties are being snapped up by buy-to-let investors, first-time buyers, and couples attracted by the rail links to London.

But local property experts have warned that once these couples start their own families, the dearth of affordable larger homes is forcing them to move away from the area, which means the town population is in danger of becoming very transient.

According to Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s latest Local Plan, currently being finalised, its initial figure of building another 632 homes has already been revised upwards to 673 properties. However, with an increased need for affordable larger homes, a significant housing problem could unfold within the next decade.

Peter Conetta, Managing Director of Ellis & Co in Tonbridge said: “There’s a lot of pent-up demand for family homes. If any properties do come up, they are being sold for higher prices because of the shortage of property. This is making things difficult for young people. I have a son who has been looking for a two-bedroom home here, and he just can’t afford to live in Tonbridge. He is now looking at places in the Medway towns.”

Robert Gordon-James, Director of Martin & Co (Tonbridge), said the one-bedroom apartments in the new developments sell very quickly, often before they are even finished, as they are so attractive to investors and young couples who are increasingly priced out of neighbouring towns such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells.

He added: “We don’t see a lot of two or three-bed-room homes that are affordable for first, or even second-time buyers, with two-bedroom houses costing from around £300,000 now.

“So the issue we are going to have in about three or four years’ time is where are people going to move to if they have a family?”

Diane Huntingford, Chair of Tonbridge Civic Society, believes there are excellent facilities for families in the area, but acknowledged there remains a shortage of affordable homes.

She said: “The town has changed a lot in the last couple of years, with people moving into flats being built here, but there’s nowhere for them to move on to from there in terms of housing.

“There are actually quite a lot of larger houses in the north part of Tonbridge. I know Civic Society members who live in that area of town would like to downsize to the centre, but there are not suitable places for them there, with a lot of the apartments being quite small.”

Ian Bailey, planning Policy Manager for Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, said the area compared well with other areas of Kent, completing the most affordable homes of any district in the county during 2013/2014, with 240 properties built.

Despite this, he warned: “Government planning reforms are making the task of delivering affordable housing more challenging for local authorities. Already, the extension of permitted development rights to convert buildings to residential means that opportunities for negotiating an element of affordable housing are lost to local planning authorities.”

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