An action group has been formed to fight plans that could see council tax increased on second homes in the Yorkshire Dales by at least five times the current level.
Dales Homeowners Action Group [DHOAG] claims all homeowners in the Dales would see their property values slump if the tax increase gets approved.
The move is proposed by the Yorkshire Dales National Parks Authority, which has the backing of Richmondshire and Craven councils.
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It is designed to attract more young families to the Dales.
DHOAG is made up of full-time residents and second homes owners, and has been established to consider other ways of attracting working-age families to the Dales while opposing the “discriminatory council tax rise”.
The group says YDNPA is proposing the increase so in the absence of any meaningful financial study of the detrimental impact on local communities.
It is claimed that existing properties across the board would be “massively devalued by a flooded market” as second homeowners rush to sell or convert their properties to holiday lets.
YDNPA is proposing a five-year pilot study to test the effects of the massive tax hike on second homes, specifically excluding holiday lets which are exempt from council tax.
The groups says the importance of both second homes and holiday lets became apparent 17 years ago when the foot and mouth outbreak prevented free access to the Dales.
Professor David Hill, former deputy chairman of Natural England who had responsibility for appointments to YDNPA on behalf of the Secretary of State, described the proposal as “thoroughly poorly thought through”.
He said: “I have a great deal of respect for the national park system, but it is important to understand that the remit of all National Parks is laid down in law by central Government according to two duties.
“Those duties are to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public.”
Professor Hill stressed that in fulfilling those two duties the Authority must have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities.
He added: “This proposed market intervention, working against economic principles, would distort and almost certainly, destroy the economic activity of the Dales and impact on the economic standing of all residents.
“The policy must also surely be applicable across the country – there is nothing specific or special about the Yorkshire Dales National Park in respect of housing provision for people on lower incomes nor housing affordability for young families.”
Dr Les Knight, a permanent Swaledale resident, described the focus on second homes as the primary cause of the problem as “a very simplistic view of what is recognised as a complex problem”.
He said: “The Government’s highly-respected Taylor Review into affordable rural housing states ‘There is no clear evidence that second homes or holiday lets greatly affect affordability for local people’. “
Dr Knight highlighted the case of a charitable trust on Holy Island, Northumberland, that was able to build new energy-efficient houses for lease to local residents which led to the re-opening of the local school
He said the introduction of high-speed, fiber optic, broadband in Swaledale had led to an increase in primary school numbers with high-skilled professionals able to work from home.
“These examples demonstrate that physical and not the social engineering being proposed by the YDNPA is the way forward for local communities,” added Dr Knight.
Richmondshire district councillors are set to become the first of the eight local authorities involved in the Yorkshire Dales national park to discuss the highly-contentious idea next month (February 27th)).
DHOAG said Office of National Statistics data put the proportion of houses used as holiday homes in Richmondshire at less than two per cent, meaning it is not even in the top 20 of most affected councils.
The group said in a statement: “Elected members would be risking taxpayers’ money in having to fight inevitable legal challenges if a blatantly discriminatory policy was agreed.
“Public funds would actually be lost if homeowners exercise their right to make their properties available to let at least 140 days a year and avoid paying council tax or even business rates in many cases, as experienced in Wales.”
North Yorkshire county councillor John Blackie is opposing the proposed council tax increase and has had discussions with the DHOAG group.
He said the last thing residents, especially young families, wanted to see was the local housing market devalued – including their own homes with possible negative equity.
Cllr Blackie told DHOAG: “The potential loss of the small army of traders – builders, joiners, electricians, plumbers – caused by the reduction in second homes will lead on to harming the interests of local families who run these firms and reduce the choice locally of services provided by them.
“Put simply, firms will pack up and the local young families running them will move away and find their livelihoods where work is a available for their skills. It happened in 2001 when Foot & Mouth blighted the Upper Dales.”
To read a report on the plan to increase council tax click here.