Here in the South Hams almost a third of adults are economically active and in full time employment, while just over one in seven are in part time employment and just under one in five are self-employed. Of the remainder, around one in twelve are economically inactive for one reason or another, and one in five are now retired.
Yet despite the high levels of employment and the strong skills base amongst those employed, local workplace earnings are amongst the lowest in the UK, with the majority of economically active residents commuting to work outside the area. As a consequence, several communities along the A38 corridor, such as Woolwell, Sherford, and Ivybridge, are now largely commuter towns. And all continue to expand, concreting over the countryside, primarily to meet the needs of Plymouth.
There are also high levels of self-employment and working from home.
We remain a very popular tourist destination, with over 60 miles of stunning coast and a countryside designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty. As a result tourism delivers £260m to our largely seasonal economy each year and is responsible for 10% of all jobs. The agriculture and marine sectors are also significant, with a successful shellfish industry exporting to both the UK and Europe.
Our towns are noticeably rich with culture and heritage. Take the thriving market town of Totnes, for example, with its castle, Elizabethan Museum, and its historic buildings and monuments. Or explore the Port of Dartmouth, with its Castle, shops and restaurants. Enjoy the vibrancy of Salcombe, or stroll through the shops in Kingsbridge. Wherever you go, there is something to see or do.
And it is this very diversity, coupled with our green and blue landscapes and breathtaking scenery, that is both a curse and a blessing.
Tourists want to come, bringing employment and congestion in their wake. Many want to retire here, adding to the pressure on our health and other services. Inevitably, property prices are driven ever higher, fuelled also by the demand for second homes, making housing affordability a real challenge for our residents.
In 2022 the resident earnings to house price ratio in Devon was 10.4, comfortably above the national average of 8.3, while average earnings for Devon residents, at £32,560 per annum, marginally lower than the UK average of £33,061.
But here in the South Hams the position was even worse. While the average annual salary was £32,873, the overall average price of a property, according to HM Land Registry, was £438,973, giving a ratio of 13.4.
Were there to be a total ban on second homes, house prices might fall, but the visitor economy could also suffer. Yet without a significant increase in the availability of genuinely affordable housing, both to buy and to rent, key workers and others needed to sustain our economy will be priced out completely.
Planning policies could provide a solution to manage the proportion of second homes, restrict the number of AirBnBs, and ensure a sufficient supply of genuinely affordable housing. But whether our politicians, both local and national, have either the will or the inclination is open to question.
But something needs to be done. By 2031 the proportion of over 65s living in Devon is expected to increase from 26% to 29.7%. By comparison, the proportion of over 65s nationally isn’t expected to reach 25% until 2048. More older people will mean more carers will be required, and those carers are going to need somewhere to live.
Simply building more is no the solution. Visitors do not come to admire the sprawl of identikit housing estates sprouting up on those sites along the A38, or just outside Dartmouth or Dartington, on the outskirts of Kingsbridge, or on the east bank of the Dart in Totnes. Our road system largely dates from a time before the 19th Century, and is entirely incapable of accommodating the ever increasing volume of traffic.
Our economy is in danger of being buried under concrete and choked by congestion. We need to be concerned.