New action group attacks proposed Dales tax hike on second homes

An action group has been formed to oppose the proposed council tax rise on second homes in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and to suggest alternative solutions to the long term viability of its communities. Picture by Tony Johnson.
An action group has been formed to oppose the proposed council tax rise on second homes in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and to suggest alternative solutions to the long term viability of its communities. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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second home owners across the country could be singled out for crippling council tax bills if a proposal mooted by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority goes ahead, campaigners claim.

The newly formed Dales Home Owners Action Group opposes a move to raise council tax on second homes in the Dales by at least five times as part of radical plan to attract more young families to live in the national park.

Professor David Hill, a member of the Dales Home Owners Action Group.

Professor David Hill, a member of the Dales Home Owners Action Group.

The group said the tax proposal is the biggest threat to the Dales’ economy since Foot and Mouth disease ravaged countryside livelihoods in 2001 and accused the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority of making the proposal without any “meaningful” financial study of the detrimental impact on local communities.

Members of the group, who include second home owners and permanent park residents, say the proposal is “discriminatory” and would cause house prices across the Yorkshire Dales to slump overnight.

At current rates, any tax increase by five times would equate to an annual tax bill for second homeowners of a Band D property of £8,500.

A tax rise relies on the backing of eight tax-setting local councils that operate within the park’s boundaries. If councils support the idea of a proposed five-year pilot and this is approved by government, it would create a precedent for every council in England to follow, the campaigners said.

This proposed market intervention, working against economic principles, would distort and almost certainly, destroy the economic activity of the Dales.

Professor David Hill, a former deputy chairman of Natural England.

Professor David Hill, a former deputy chairman of Natural England who was responsible for appointing members to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, believes the potential tax hike is “thoroughly poorly thought through”.

He said: “This proposed market intervention, working against economic principles, would distort and almost certainly, destroy the economic activity of the Dales and impact on the economic standing of all residents.”

And the action group said: “Existing properties across the board will be massively devalued by a flooded market as second homeowners rush to sell or convert their properties to holiday lets.”

But the leader of Richmondshire District Council, Councillor Yvonne Peacock, believes those concerns are misplaced.

“The scheme suggested is a five-year pilot exercise to help regenerate the Dales and bring young people and families back into our communities,” Coun Peacock said.

“There is no evidence that it will create a slump in house prices but we need to do something to free up accommodation for these young people to live in.

“Under this scheme second home owners would have a choice, either rent out their properties, live in them themselves, sell them or pay a levy on their council tax which will go directly back into the Yorkshire Dales communities.

“None of the money raised by a second home council tax levy would go into the council budget, it would go directly back into the Dales communities.”

A spokesman for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said the authority did not wish to comment on the claims made by the Dales Home Owners Action Group. The authority has however stated its determination to address second home ownership in the park. It believes radical action is needed to protect the long-term viability of the park’s ageing communities and attract more young families to live there. It also believes inflated tax bills would encourage some homes back into full occupancy and would lead to fewer second-home purchases.

Dr Les Knight, a permanent Swaledale resident and a member of the Dales Home Owners Action Group, said the focus on second homes as the primary cause of the problem was “a very simplistic view of what is recognised as a complex problem”.

He said: “The Government’s highly-respected Taylor Review into affordable rural housing states ‘There is no clear evidence that second homes or holiday lets greatly affect affordability for local people’.”

Prof Hill questioned the rationale behind the proposal, saying: “There is nothing specific or special about the Yorkshire Dales National Park in respect of housing provision for people on lower incomes nor housing affordability for young families.”

Richmondshire District Council will be the first local authority whose territory falls in the national park to discuss the proposal at a meeting on February 27.

Coun Peacock said: “This proposal is in its infancy, and is just that, a proposal. It has not been debated by councillors and I am listening to all the comments coming forward.”

PROPOSAL DIVIDES COMMUNITY

Members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority voted narrowly in favour of working with local councils to develop a specific proposal on raising council tax for second homes at a meeting last month.

It was a narrow vote with 12 in favour, nine against and one member abstaining.

According to the park authority, initial talks with district and county councils showed support for the idea in principle, but a formal proposal will only be drawn up to be put before the Government if it has their full support.

Members of the Dales Home Owners Action Group said they would look at other “constructive” ways to attract families to the Dales and will hold a meeting next week.