ONE of the biggest issues facing South Lakeland over the past 20 years or so has been the severe shortage of houses local people can afford to buy.

House prices soared during the 1980s and 1990s and as more and more properties were snapped up as second homes, it became increasingly difficult for young people, in particular, to get their foot on the property ladder.

People who had grown up in the district have been forced to move to other areas, such as Lancaster, or even further afield, where homes are cheaper.

This issue is only likely to get worse in the future as young people who go on to higher education will also be saddled with huge debts now that universities have been allowed to almost triple tuition fees – surely one of the worst decisions by any Government in recent years.

One of South Lakeland District Council’s top priorities for many years has been to try to boost the number of ‘affordable’ homes in the area. Its Land Allocations Document suggests that 6,000 new homes could be built in coming years – of which around 35 per cent must be ‘affordable’ to local people.

The ‘affordable’ element is admirable. But developers will only create schemes if they are financially viable and that means more expensive homes must also be in the mix. Some opponents of housing development fear that too much open land will have to be sacrificed to create the affordable properties.

There are no easy answers but one housing scheme at Coniston could serve as a beacon for others to follow.

In the village, where there is a huge need for rental accomm-odation, the whole community has got together to help create 14 new homes.

A meeting six years ago attended by 28 young people who wanted to stay in the village prompted the community to work together to try to find a solution.

Local people worked with Eden Housing Scheme on design issues and on ways they could contribute to the development’s upkeep. The tenants have agreed to look after the communal grounds themselves – reducing work for the association and the cost for residents.

Meanwhile funding and support has come from a variety of bodies, including SLDC, the Homes and Communities Agency, Coniston and Torver Housing Group, Coniston Parochial Parish Council, the Lake District National Park Authority and Mitre Housing Association.

The result of this collaborative effort is 14 homes which look good and are affordable for local people.

This scheme has demonstrated that imaginative and innovative thinking, hard work and persistence and a collective will to get things done can pay big dividends when it comes to tackling the area’s housing problems.