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Chairman: “We are listening on second homes”

Bainbridge, 31 January, 2018

The Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Carl Lis, has written an open letter to second home owners in the Park.

In it, he argues persuasively for a collective approach amongst local authorities to increase Council Tax on second homes in the National Park, while acknowledging the “hurt” it has caused some home owners.  

The proposal – which the National Park Authority considered formally just before Christmas – has been revised following further talks between civic leaders this month.

Richmondshire District Council will now be the first of the constituent local authorities in the Park to take a formal vote on the final proposition, at a full council meeting on 27 February.  That proposition is to “work alongside the other Councils and YDNPA to enter into discussions with Government on the options available for increasing Council Tax for second homes within the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park”.

In the open letter, Mr Lis said:  “It has never been in doubt that you love the Yorkshire Dales and want the best for the community in which you have your second home.  Many of you have deep roots here, and contribute to the local economy when you are here.  

“It is also true that the high proportion of second homes in the National Park is only one of the factors contributing to the decline of some of our towns and villages.

“However, there is one further fact that we cannot shy away from, no matter how uncomfortable:  too many second homes are bad for local communities.  Plenty of studies have shown it to be the case.  Those of us who have the honour to represent communities within the National Park – including the Leaders of Craven, Richmondshire and South Lakeland District Councils – see that impact with our own eyes every day.  

“For every new home that we build in the National Park, two existing homes become second homes or holiday lets.  That leaves us with only two options.  We do something, or we shrug our shoulders and do nothing.  If this generation of political leaders chooses the latter option, then the problems caused by too many second homes will only be passed to those that come after us.

“People have asked why the National Park Authority is getting involved in this issue.  The answer is simple: the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park cannot be effectively conserved and enhanced without strong, viable local communities.

“In the past few years, we have seen some local services cut back or closed.  We have, sadly, seen schools shut.  To ‘blame’ the problem solely on the growing number of second homes would be absurd.  But denying that second homes are part of the problem would be equally absurd.”

He continued: “Building more houses; creating greater economic opportunities; extending broadband and mobile telecommunications; and better marketing the area all have to be part of the solution to the challenges we face. However, ignoring the impact of the ever increasing number of second homes is simply not to acknowledge ’the elephant in the room.’

“I have heard the objection that this is ‘social engineering’.  But as Craven District Council leader, Richard Foster, has said, cutting a local bus service is social engineering. Shutting a school is social engineering.  Leaving a village centre home empty for much of the year is social engineering.

“You might have argued that the proposal could make everyone poorer, because it could bring down the value of everyone’s home.  I’d like to challenge the logic in that argument.   We have a target to build 55 new homes in the Park each year.  No one has yet provided any evidence that that policy will bring down house prices. Indeed, the local authorities have plans to build approximately 5,000 new homes in total across their areas in the next five years and nobody ever argues that shouldn’t happen because of the possible effect on house prices.  In other words, why should having more homes available through the sale or letting of second homes have any greater impact on house prices than having more homes available through new builds?  The number of second homes in the park – around 1500 – is high as a proportion of the total, but is not high enough to dramatically alter house prices should a number of them be put up for sale.  

“Please let me finish by coming back to my first point. I have listened to your concerns – and I acknowledge that the proposal has caused some hurt, as it places the needs of the community above your own.  The need to attract more people to live permanently in the Dales – and to retain those already here – is urgent.  If the proposal results in some existing second homes being brought back into full-time occupancy, then everyone who loves the Dales will have cause to celebrate.”

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