VISUALLY impaired sportsman Stephen Hartley has been forced out of Tavistock by a combination of high rents and a shortage of rental properties.

Stephen, an international bowls player, and his partner Dawn Williams, were due to renew their lease on a town centre flat, but could not afford the rent rise.

Looking elsewhere in Tavistock, they could not find anywhere affordable with the access Stephen needs for him and his guide dog Kingsley.

The few suitable properties already had more than 200 bids from would-be tenants. So the couple have had to look further afield and reluctantly, have signed up to move to a flat in Exeter.

Stephen said: “It’s very sad that we have to move from Tavistock. I’ve been here a few years and got to know people. Importantly, as a visually impaired person, I have become familiar with the routes round town with the help of my guide dog Kingsley walk regularly. “

Stephen is regularly picked for big tournaments, with the highlight being last year’s para world championships where his team reached the semi-finals. He has also played in Home Nations tournaments and been picked for the latest Home Nations pairs competition this summer. Therefore, proximity to a bowls club and indoor bowling rink is essential. In Tavistock he can walk to the town’s Sir Francis Drake Bowling Club and is not far from the Plymouth Life Centre indoor bowls rink.

Stephen said: “It’s great shame that I’ll have to leave my home town club, especially as they have always made me feel so welcome and I have achieved so much while being there. I’ll still be a member and will continue to play in Tavistock until the end of the season, even though I will have to commute from my new home.”

Stephen was also unlucky in the timing of his rent rise because initially he was not eligible to claim the Universal Credit top-up, through West Devon Borough Council, that would have helped him afford his new higher rent. The rules have now changed since he signed his new lease, which would have granted him the higher subsidy.