Row over proposed second homes council tax increase intensifies

Askrigg in Wensleydale. Photo: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has written an open letter to second home owners as campaigners call on the Government to investigate proposals to increase council tax in the Dales.

In the letter, Carl Lis argues for a collective approach among 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.

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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 February 27.

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”.

YDNPA chairman Carl Lis.

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.”

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.”

It was also announced this week that Dales Home Owners Action Group, which has been formed to fight the YDNPA’s plans and comprises of full-time residents and those with second homes, has written to the Environment Secretary accusing YDNPA of trying to exert political influence.

The group is calling on the Secretary of State to consider if YDNPA is exceeding its primary purpose under the 1995 Environment Act – to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public.

Campaigners say any pilot scheme would have to apply direct discrimination, with second homeowners served by the same district council but on opposite side of the park boundary, receiving massively different tax demands.

They say that for the study to have any meaning, increased taxes would have to be imposed on some areas of the park while exclude others for the effects to be compared. (On its failure, would councils refund tax charged excessively and evict those who bought at a knock-down price and return the property to the previous owners?)

It is claimed the policy would also be in contravention of Article 14 of the Human Rights Act which expressly forbids discrimination involving property.

DHOAG says it is questioning why the Yorkshire Dales has put itself at the forefront of such a move when the group says it is not a special case compared to other areas of the country.

DHOAG’s letter to the Environment Secretary concludes: “The concept of political lobbyists masquerading as Government-funded conservationists, as with YDNPA, is something you may wish to consider in your review of national parks as part of your recently announced 25 year Environment Plan.”

You can read the letter in full here.