Second homes are "killing towns and villages" in Somerset, says former Lib Dem leader

  Posted: 11.01.22 at 15:48 by The Editor

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Second homes and the rise of Airbnb are “killing towns and villages” in Somerset, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats has claimed.

Tim Farron MP, who led his party between 2015 and 2017, criticised the government’s record on second homes during a debate on housing held at Westminster Hall on Thursday (January 6).

He has called for a firmer approach regarding holiday lets and second homes, arguing that existing residents had been “ejected from the places where they were raised”.

The government said it was important to balance the economic benefits of second homes against the challenges they presented to their communities.

Mr Farron described the rise of Airbnb and similar companies as the “Lakeland Clearances” – a reference to the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, where the UK government evicted a significant number of tenants in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

He said: “The ease with which people can turn a home into a holiday let is part of the problem. The consequences are phenomenal. The people I am speaking about are real human beings; I could pick dozens and dozens more to talk about.

“What it means for them is that they have to leave the area. This is no less than a Lakeland clearance: whole communities ejected from the places where they were raised, where they had chosen to raise their families, or where they had set down roots to live, work and contribute to our economy.”

Mr Farron (who represents the Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency in Cumbria) said second homes had the effect of driving out existing residents who could no longer afford to stay, branding the situation 2morally abhorrent and economically stupid”.

He elaborated: “What about the children who have to move away, and are forced to move school, and leave behind friends and support networks? What about those left behind in our dwindling communities, whose schools are now threatened with closure?

“I have spoken to MPs, not just those who are here and for whose presence I am massively grateful, but from rural communities right across this House. Most of those, particularly in England and Wales, are from the Conservative Party.

“There is a kind of private agreement that this is a catastrophe. They see it in their own constituencies: the collapse of affordable, available housing for local communities is killing towns and villages in Cornwall, Northumberland, Shropshire, Devon, Somerset, North Yorkshire, the highlands of Scotland and rural Wales, as well as in my home of Cumbria.”

Mr Farron called on the government to take swift action to provide affordable housing in rural areas, providing seven proposals to improve the situation:

Make second homes and holiday lets a separate category in the planning system, allowing councils and national parks to put a limit on the number of such properties in each town or village
Provide “targeted, ring-fenced finance” for councils to carry out enforcement of these new limits
Allow councils to increase council tax by up to 100 per cent on second homes in the worst-affected communities, with the revenue thus generated being spent on new affordable homes and local schools
Force all holiday let owners to pay council tax (currently such parties can avoid tax if they are deemed a small business)
Give councils and national parks power to ensure certain new builds are 100 per cent affordable and provide funding to “pump prime” sites, possibly through a “second homes council tax supplement”
Ban Section 21 evictions, as per the Conservative manifesto at the 2019 general election
Ensure Airbnb and its contemporaries meet the same standards as other holiday rentals, ensuring they do not “cut corners and undermine the traditional holiday let industry”
Mr Farron concluded by referencing the North Shropshire by-election (where the Lib Dems unseated the Conservatives following the resignation of Owen Paterson), arguing that a failure to act would be punished at the next general election.

He said: “The government will have noticed that, in recent months, rural Britain has demonstrated at the ballot box that it will not tolerate being taken for granted.

“It is obvious to us what needs to be done, and it frustrates us, to the point of fury, that the government has so far failed to even acknowledge the problem, much less to do anything about it.”

None of Somerset’s MPs participated in the debate, either in person or virtually.

Tamworth MP Christopher Pincher, who serves as housing minister with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), said the government had invested £11.3bn into affordable housing schemes to ease the housing crisis.

He said: “Since 2013, local authorities have been able to levy 100 per cent of council tax on second homes, where the people who own them do not necessarily use the local services that they might, but through the council tax have to contribute to them.

“I recognise that more must be done, but we must ensure that we get the right balance on the economic benefits of second homes, the social challenges that they can sometimes provide, the rights of home-owners to use their properties as they choose, and the needs of home-seekers wishing to live in or near the area where their friends, families or workplaces are located.”

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