North Yorkshire County Council has revealed it is considering directly intervening in the housing market in a bid to reverse population decline and bolster communities in the Yorkshire Dales.
The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said the authority was examining a range of possibilities, including becoming the first local authority to buy land in the country’s second largest national park or subsidising affordable housing developments.
The move follows a Countryside Commission inquiry identifying numerous issues with getting affordable housing projects started in the county’s national parks.
Coun Les was speaking at the council’s Richmondshire constituency committee, after a senior national park authority officer revealed some proposals to tackle what is believed to have been a significant population decline in the park over the past decade.
Peter Stockton, who is leading the park authority’s review of the Local Plan, told the committee by 2017 30 per cent of national park residents were aged over 65, about double the national average.
He said specialist housing for elderly people was needed as well as affordable housing and houses of multiple occupancy (HMO) for young people.
Mr Stockton said: “If I was a planner in Leeds or York an HMO is a bit of a dirty word, but in rural North Yorkshire there is a need for shared homes for younger people. It makes taking up contract work viable. I would like to see entrepreneurs buying existing properties and using them responsibly for shared accommodation.
“There’s money to be made by taking existing properties in the Dales and subdividing and running them as shared housing for younger people. There’s plenty of isolated farm buildings in the national park near towns.”
Mr Stockton said while the national average of properties not permanently occupied was about four per cent, some 21 per cent of those in the national park were second homes or holiday lets, and in the Richmondshire area of the park it was close to 30 per cent.
The meeting heard the Yorkshire Dales was planning to follow in the footsteps of several other national parks, including the North York Moors, in preventing any new properties from becoming second homes or holiday lets.
Mr Stockton added: “It would be fantastic if the new unitary authorities could purchase some of the sites that are allocated in our Local Plan. We have no public land in the national park and that’s a problem.
“If the new unitary authority was to purchase a couple of sites, in the more difficult to develop deeper rural areas, in Hawes or Grassington perhaps, then your housing teams would then be in charge and you could really go to town. You could have self-build, houses for rent, shared ownership, specialist elderly care and HMOs.”
In response, Coun Les said the authority was continuing to consider levying extra council tax on second homes in the county, generating about £10m, some of which could be used to foster affordable housing in areas such as national parks.
He said the council could also consider using its private housebuilding arm to accelerate the construction of affordable homes.
Coun Les said: “It’s a very high cost to build in the Dales, the specifications tend to be higher as it’s in a national park, but there’s also a shortage of builders there, so the first and last hour of every day is travelling to the site.
“We can intervene to make the site less expensive.”
He added there was £13m in the proposed devolution deal to develop brownfield sites, some of which would be used for housing in rural areas, with another round of devolution deals to be done when the mayoral combined authority was agreed.