Will the current potential solutions to encourage and expand rural village life work?

publication date: Apr 22, 2009
author/source: Kate Faulkner

Matthew Taylor MP has just produced a 200 page document on the Rural Economy and Affordable Housing which addressed the issue of second home ownership. In this document Matthew raises many good points which show why so many rural communities are suffering from:-

1. Higher than average property prices
2. Lower than average wages
3. Lack of affordable housing

Unfortunately for Matthew, much of the good work he did was missed and instead the bulk of the focus from the report has been on second home ownership and the problems it causes. In fact, out of the 200 plus pages, only three were devoted to this issue and Matthew’s summary was that in the main, second homes had little impact on these in the majority of areas, however his report states:-

“In conclusion, although there are real issues of practicality, there is a case to be made for controlling (through the planning system) further conversion of full time homes into second homes and holiday lets only in those places where there is identifiable impact on the sustainability of the host community.”

Matthew recommended that these were trialled in National Park areas.

However, this isn’t in my view the right way to go, and it certainly won’t solve the problem that local communities now have: a shortage of homes to live in and owned homes that are empty for most of the year.

What the communities that are affected by a high level of second home ownership need, is to understand it, embrace it and then work out the best way to solve the problem that doesn’t restrict demand or put 'impossible to police' hurdles, such as requiring a change in planning permissions, to sort out the issue.

Living in the small village that I do, and holidaying in UK villages/towns where there is high tourism during the holidays and not much happening elsewhere, I have seen some fantastic ways of sorting the problems that these communities are suffering with. Understanding property as I do, I also think I am well placed to recommend innovative yet practical ways of dealing with the issues of living and working in rural communities.

However, let’s first consider the current suggestions:-

Increase council tax for second home owners
This is already starting to happen, as second home owners' relief of paying 50% council tax is being eroded away to around a 10% discount. My view is that if it is a home for leisure purposes and in addition to a home already owned and lived in and not rented out at all, then there should be no discount. However if it’s a clergy member/forces they aren’t penalised at all for having to live in work accommodation and own a second property, the same if someone is in the process of/divorced and owns their family’s home as well as one of their own to live in.

However making second home owners (for leisure purposes) pay two or even four times the council tax may give short term ‘glee’ to those frustrated in the community, but I don’t think it’ll force people to sell up or utilise their home throughout the year. It also wouldn’t be enough to fund building more homes for people locally, so it’s a nice short term ‘ha, ha, gotcha’ but it’ll be a short lived ‘win’ by the community.

Preventing people from buying and using second homes for holidays
I think this is not helpful to the community. For those that have already bought, their homes will still lay empty so it doesn’t solve the problem, just potentially stops it getting worse for now. However the biggest losers of this will be the local community who want/need to sell in the coming years. I think this would adversely restrict demand (as well as restrict people’s freedom to spend their money in this country encouraging them to go abroad), and the community would not achieve its aim: having enough people in the local community to support a range of facilities and would not necessarily make homes that would have gone to second home owners affordable to locals.

Restricting Planning for New Homes
This is one of the policies that has caused the problem that villages face in the first place. Most villages had 5-10 council owned homes which were then sold privately during Maggie’s era in the 1980s. Although popular at the time, this sale of desperately needed homes has led to a massive shortage of properties available for rent/purchase at a reasonable price by local people/those in need. This shortage is more prevalent in rural communities than towns and cities.

Secondly, all new homes in small rural communities have tended to be small in number and often under the government ‘limit’ to have to provide social housing. As a result, the properties that have typically been built by developers have been the most luxurious and expensive – not the small, affordable homes desperately needed. Interestingly, many of these homes have been bought by ‘outsiders’ of the community who now vehemently object to any further development (particularly of a social housing nature) within the local community. They ‘new generation’ of village homeowners often want change less than those in the community who are used to it!

Finally, not allowing fields or land near villages to be developed for fear of a ‘loss of our green belt’ has caused a major shortage of homes within the rural communities. The result being, prices continue to go up, and the only people that can afford them are those retiring on good earnings and those earning large salaries in nearby cities/towns or running their businesses from home.

All this has kept supply down and pushed prices up in rural areas while large swathes of land and estates have been built on the edge of towns and cities instead, exacerbating the lack of homes and jobs.

What local authorities and communities need to do is to recognise the opportunity of how to use local villages/communities to help take the pressure of nearby cities/towns. Both need to engage with those that want to live and can bring work into their communities and create innovate ways of solving the issue we all face: we don’t have enough of the right homes in the right places at the right price to accommodate the population of the UK. 

See next article: What Kate’s ideas are!


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