VULNERABLE tenants in two ‘affordable’ Watchet housing developments fear they will be made homeless if a planning application which would allow the properties to be put up for sale is successful.

Tenants of five flats at Malthouse Court and Mill Street Bakery, Watchet, said the first they knew of their landlord’s plans to sell their homes was when planning notices were put up on the sites.

The flats are occupied by elderly or seriously ill tenants who say they have nowhere else to live and could not afford to buy the property or rent anywhere more expensive if they are evicted.

Acorn Homes, of Taunton, which built the two small developments in 2009 and 2012, have applied to Somerset Council’s planning committee to allow the one-bedroom ‘affordably rented’ flats to be sold at 20 per cent below market value.

Malthouse Court is a development of six cottages and three affordable rented apartments and Mill Street Bakery consists of four town houses and two cottages, plus two one-bed apartments. Many, except the flats, are second homes or holiday lets.

Malthouse Court, Watchet.
Malthouse Court, Watchet.

As anger mounted in Watchet, concerned residents attended a meeting of the town council’s environment and planning committee to urge the authority to object to the applications which they claimed would have a disastrous effect on elderly and vulnerable tenants.

The campaigners included Liz McGrath, chair of a new local community interest company, Base for Life Watchet, who said: “We need to retain and grow the amount of affordable housing. These applications must be opposed.”

In a statement to planners, the applicants said they could no longer continue to service the low-rent units and had been unable to find anybody willing to take them on.

A spokesperson said: “With a lack of any genuine interest or serious offers on the units, we are now seeking to vary the S106 agreement to alter the tenure of the flats from ‘affordable rent’ to ‘discounted market sales.’

“This is an appropriate modification as the current tenure requires a suitable provider for the units and it is evident there are none.

“All reasonable avenues of inquiry have now been exhausted and we see no other option but to seek a reasonable alternative.

“The proposed variations will enable the units to be disposed of by the current provider while remaining in the scope of ‘affordable units.’”

Elderly tenants, some in bad health, asked not to be named but said they feared they would be made homeless if the flats were sold.

They said there was a “desperate shortage” of rented property in Watchet and they were in no position to buy anywhere.

One tenant, who had been made homeless three times, was delighted to get a one-bed apartment in 2018.

They said: “It was a lifeline. I have been having major hospital treatment for three years and my ground-floor flat has been ideal for me through these health issues. I dread to think what will happen to me if I lose it.”

Another tenant said: “I was very pleased to move into my affordable, sunny and light flat seven years ago believing my tenancy was secure and enduring.

“I was shocked to discover that the landlord wants to sell all of the five affordable properties, meaning that six vulnerable tenants will potentially be made homeless.”

The entrance to Malthouse Court, Watchet.
The entrance to Malthouse Court, Watchet.

An elderly man with chronic health conditions, said: “It is very important to me to have a safe place to live in which to weather the storm of ill-health, which I most definitely have in my current home.

“The desperate uncertainty of our current situation regarding our homes is creating extreme anxiety which is having a detrimental effect on my other health conditions.”

John Woodward, a concerned resident who is supporting the campaign, told the Free Press that news of the application to offload the apartments had been ‘utterly devastating’ for the tenants, none of whom would be able to buy their homes or get a mortgage.

He said: “These S106 apartments provide invaluable homes for local people who meet the council’s criteria and are not in a position to buy locally.

“There is a very real risk that these six tenants will be made homeless if they are evicted.

“Acorn’s application makes no proposal for how their current tenants will be found homes. They are some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

“The council might put them in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation, the bills for which are sending local authorities into bankruptcy.”

The applications will be considered by Somerset Council’s planning committee at a future meeting. Acorn Homes have applied for deeds of variation under S106A of the Town and Country Planning Act to ‘convert affordable rented tenure to discounted sales’.

The applications, no. 3/37/23/027 for Mill Street Bakery and no. 3/37/23/025 for Malthouse Court, can be viewed on the Somerset Council planning portal. Comments must be submitted by Friday, March 8.