Action demanded on Dales landowners ‘banking plots for retirement’

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Government action was demanded last night to take back tracts of rural land earmarked for community housing which had instead been “banked” by their owners for their retirement.

Some 250 sites in the Yorkshire Dales, and hundreds more across the region are lying unused, despite having been given planning permission, officials say.

The problem is said to be hindering attempts to address the shortage of affordable houses which could be used to attract younger families to villages with ageing populations and fragile infrastructures.

It will be debated next week at the annual conference of around 100 decision makers from all 15 of Britain’s National Parks, which is being held in the Dales, at Coniston Cold, near Skipton.

Carl Lis, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said the body was lobbying the Government to change the planning rules.

He said: “At the moment you’ve got a window of three years to start developing once you’ve got your planning permission.

“But in reality, all you have to do is put a put a brick down and the building is considered started.”

Coun Lis said the Dales had identified a problem with owners who had been granted permission “banking their land and keeping it going as a retirement plan”.

He said: “We’re passing a lot of applications but quite a number of those are not acted upon.

“If you extend that across the rest of North Yorkshire, there are thousands of houses that have been approved and which have simply not been started.”

He said the issue had emerged when the Park Authority identified 10 sites as suitable for housing.

“It was like a green light to landowners in those areas that they would get permission if they submitted something,” he said.

“But all that happened was that the value of each plot of land increased. And developers have hung on to the land because it will increase more.

“The result is that across those 10 sites, only a small proportion of plans have been acted upon.”

David Butterworth, chief executive of the Park Authority, said earlier in the year that the urgency of resolving the housing crisis facing the area meant the authority “simply has to take a stricter approach”.

He said: “The whole purpose behind giving the approval for sites for developing housing is to get more housing there.”

The issue of little-used second homes within National Parks is also continuing to restrict the choice of property available to incoming families, Coun Lis said.

“Quite a few wealthy people over the years have either been left properties to use as second homes, or they’ve purchased them. And that’s put the price of houses up.

“We now need to build wherever we can and put ties on them so they can’t lost to the local market,” he said.

Average house prices are more than nine times local wages in some rural areas. Last month, a community-led scheme was launched by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust to accelerate the building of affordable homes. It said it was acting because past efforts “had not worked”.