To millions of armchair sports fans, Steve Rider is the unflappable television frontman whose sunny demeanour permeates coverage of golf and grand prix. But when it comes to his holiday cottage in a quiet Devon hamlet, the broadcaster seems to have found himself in the middle of a row after opposing plans to build affordable housing.
The 58-year-old ITV presenter has pitted himself against a septuagenarian landowner who has put forward a proposal for six cottages in East Portlemouth on the Salcombe Estuary, which has become the summer retreat of choice in recent years for second home-owning celebrities, including Damon Albarn, Kate Bush and Rik Mayall. Such is the desirability of housing in East Portlemouth that the average price of a detached house is now more than £2m.
Plans to be considered today by a planning committee at South Hams District Council show that the six affordable homes would be rented to local families unable to buy a property in the area or offered with a joint equity scheme in which the new residents could own up to 49 per cent. The West Country is one of the regions of Britain most dramatically hit by an influx of arrivals willing to pay increased property prices for the quality of life offered in the villages of counties such as Devon and Cornwall. Between 1996 and 2006, 1.1 million left the region and were replaced by 1.4 million incomers, many of them second home-owners. Campaigners have warned the result is "ghost villages" where half the homes are unoccupied for 80 per cent of the year. Mr Rider, who said he and his wife Jane had been residents of East Portlemouth for six years, insisted he was not trying to drive out locals and criticised animosity towards holiday-home owners, saying they were "vital to the local economy".
In a letter to the council setting out his objections, the broadcaster said there were no jobs, amenities or public transport in the village for the residents of proposed affordable homes. He said: "The actual character of East Portlemouth is one of a unique peace and solitude. If this is threatened, then it could be lost for ever."
The debate has split residents of the village, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with some second-home owners threatening to take their business elsewhere; others support the scheme, describing it as "vital for the long-term viability" of the community.
The project was put forward by Isobel Waterhouse, 72, who was praised last year for resisting the urge to cash in when she turned over four properties for social housing rather than sell them.
Lindsey Lindley, chairman of the parish council, said yesterday: "Isobel is single-handedly saving our community and the future of the village. We have an ageing population and it is difficult for people to buy homes they can afford and to work in the village."
However, an official report on the scheme has recommended it be refused because it does not "strictly" meet the definition of affordable housing.