BEN Cooper has pledged to put affordable housing top of his agenda after being sworn in as a South Hams Councillor.

He said: “Affordable housing has to be the number one priority in Dartmouth and across the South Hams.”

Labour candidate Ben made a triumphant return to the council after topping the polls in the election for Dartmouth and East Dart.

He laughed: “I thought I might win a seat but didn’t think I’d top the polls. I think it’s the first time anyone’s received more votes than Jonathan (Hawkins)!”

Dartmouth and East Dart ward has now moved from three Conservative district councillors to Ben for Labour, Ged Yardy for Liberal Democrats, and long-standing Jonathan Hawkins as the sole Conservative to maintain his seat.

Ben said: “We now have the perfect mix in Dartmouth, which is healthy for democracy and representative of the area.”

With South Hams Council now under Liberal Democrats control Ben is hoping affordable housing will rise to the top of the district council’s agenda.

He said: “I’m more hopeful since the election of a Lib Dem controlled council that more dynamic policies and ideas will be implemented, to create much needed affordable and social houses for local people.

“It’s the crucial thing to keep our young people in the South Hams. Hospitality, our main industry, is suffering from local people, especially young people, not being able to afford to live and work here.

“Houses need to be lived in. There are thousands of homes in the pipeline being built for the developers’ needs not local needs. “Affordable” based on average property costs is not actually affordable. We looked at new builds in Dartmouth recently which worked out around £1,000 monthly for a part rent and part buy property – that is not affordable for most people living and working here.”

Ben said whilst campaigning he found even those who were comfortable had concerns about children and grandchildren not being able to afford property.

He said: “One lady told me it was the first time she’d ever voted Labour. She has children in their twenties seriously struggling to get onto the property ladder and said she sees the impact of failing Conservative housing policies.”

Ben grew up in Dartmouth, as did his mum and grandparents. After studying at the University of Plymouth he’s since returned and is now manager of Smith Street Deli in the town.

Ben was previously Townstal’s councillor for South Hams Council from 2011 to 2015, elected when he was just 25 years old.

He said: “People in town asked me to stand again this year. I thought about it then finally gave in. This really is the most beautiful ward to live and work in! I’m just a local lad trying to make the place we live a little bit better.”

As vice chair of Dartmouth Youth Group Ben also has youth provision close to his heart. He helped set up the youth group and has worked hard with the committee to keep services free to attend, including a weekly group at Ivy Lane and fortnightly events at the leisure centre. He’s hoping to help the town acquire a purpose-built youth centre.

Ben’s also launched a campaign for a “visitor charge” for the South Hams and said he will work hard as a councillor to help improve water quality in the district’s coast and rivers.