Loans drought forces Dales to relax rules on buying homes

STRINGENT rules to restrict housing in the Yorkshire Dales to local residents and prevent the spread of second homes are set to be revised, as mortgage companies and banks refuse to lend to would-be buyers in the national park.

The Yorkshire Post has learned senior national park officers are looking to alter its much-heralded local occupancy rule, which was introduced in 2005 banning almost all new homes from being sold to outsiders, and instead broadening its scope to include people who work in the Dales.

They will also insert a condition allowing a repossessed property to be re-sold on the open market.

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The move is an attempt by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to kick-start mortgage lending on new homes, which has all but dried up in the recession due to the lack of a sell-on value for houses restricted by the ban.

This month, a Government inspector is poised to release a long-term planning blueprint for the Dales drawn up by the national park, in which he has been asked to reduce the amount of affordable housing required in new developments despite a current critical shortage of them in order to get buildings off the ground.

Now the inspector is facing growing calls to recommend scaling back the local occupancy restrictions to prevent the lifeblood of the Dales from draining away.

Coun John Blackie, the leader of Richmondshire District Council and member champion for planning at the national park authority, said: “In the current circumstances we have to relax it because it is not working and that is a great shame.

“We are facing something much bigger than we could ever possibly have envisaged.

“The intention has always been to help local people to stay locally, if we are not doing that then we are not doing what we set out to do.

“The restrictions we have put in place are not working because the banks won’t lend. Everything depends on what the inspector says. The buck stops with him.

“But it cannot be a wholesale abandonment of the principles of local occupancy.”

The problem of providing affordable homes for families in the Dales is widely seen to have worsened in recent years, despite the local occupancy rules.

In some areas of the national park, such as Arkengarthdale, up to half of all houses are holiday homes with villages lying empty outside the holiday season.

As wages continue to stagnate, house prices have remained stubbornly high due to the second home market.

Rob Warm, lead manager in the region for the National Housing Federation, said: “The whole issue is critical.

“The actual problem that this tried to solve has not gone away. The combination of low wages and high house prices means people cannot afford to stay in houses where they grew up.

“If this model doesn’t work for whatever reason then we need to look at other ideas.

“There is a growing gap. People moving into these communities need to understand that it cannot stay unchanged – there needs to be more affordable housing built to keep these communities alive.

“It is easy to talk about abstract house prices but these are real people, when they go there will be nobody there to replace them.”

The plans which are with the Government inspector have been drawn up over the past five years in a bid to counter the deepening housing crisis and are the first time that an over-arching document has been created to pinpoint specific locations for development since 1954.

Peter Stockton, head of sustainable development at the authority, said despite recommending to the inspector that the 50 per cent affordable housing requirement on new developments could be reduced in certain areas, there are “no plans to remove any part of the local occupancy rules”.

“As things stand in 2012, people are struggling to get mortgages on properties with local occupancy restrictions,” he said. “One way round that is to introduce a clause into the occupancy agreement that means the mortgage company can get rid of it quickly.

“But we want this to be debated by our members. It is all about flexibility.”