The importance of local leadership

Stewart Wass is a resident of Upton Pyne and also (since 2003) a Parish Councillor.  He has been one of the principal, and at times the principal, driving force behind a long-running attempt to get an affordable housing project off the ground in the two parishes of Upton Pyne and Brampford Speke.  He kept at it, and through his example and leadership kept others at it.

The success of this project has been in no small measure due to Stewart’s persistence and leadership.

The experience of the two parishes – since about 2004 – was a roller-coaster one, with at different times at least two housing associations and one private developer showing an active interest, and then each appearing to lose interest because it all seemed too difficult. Stewart has been the constant factor, ensuring that the vision of a successful affordable housing project did not die.

In 2009 Stewart was one of the key figures behind joining up the two parishes’ interest in affordable housing, under the banner of an ‘Affordable Housing Group’. This was a canny move, enabling two small-population parishes to pool resources. Unfortunately the project stalled again - but Stewart, with a small number of others, kept the joint-working alive.

In early 2012 the two parishes were introduced to the idea of forming a locally-owned Community Land Trust, one covering both our parishes, to promote & own affordable housing. This is an idea which has been enthusiastically embraced. Stewart was the natural choice to chair the CLT steering group, overseeing both the teeing up of two affordable housing projects and the preparatory steps for the CLT to become a legal entity.

The membership of the CLT steering group was drawn from an open-to-all public meeting, and this has meant that there are a variety of personal agendas in play, which Stewart has had to – successfully – negotiate his way through.

Upton Pyne was bizarrely designated by East Devon DC as ‘unsustainable’, thus putting a blockage on the development of affordable housing (despite there being a proven need), whether through the ‘allocation’ of a site or through the ‘exception site’ route. Stewart – and others –patiently persisted in successfully persuading both planning officers and local politicians of the error of their ways.

As chair of the CLT steering group Stewart has had to manage at-times delicate relations with the CLT’s housing association partner, as the Housing Association learnt how to work with these new, sometimes feisty, locally-run entities. Another success story!

Stewart’s leadership style is not of the ‘follow-me-right-or-wrong’ variety. He managed to balance genuine listening, genuine tolerance of different views, genuine acceptance of the (sometimes conflicting) contributions of people with expert knowledge, with nevertheless moving the whole project forward.

At last in 2015 the project was completed, with 7 homes at affordable rent all let to local people.  The homes were built with extremely levels of good insulation and other design features which will ensure low energy bills for tenants.

written by Andrew Wiles, Chair of Brampford Speke Parish Council and Bob Short, Chair of Upton Pyne & Cowley Parish Council.