Action on seaside holiday lets in places like Staithes, Runswick Bay and Robin Hood’s Bay is to be welcomed - Andrew Vine

In a little over a month’s time, the arrival of Easter really kicks off Yorkshire’s tourist trade for another year and the influx of visitors will bring to life places that out of season can be eerily quiet.

Seaside villages such as Staithes, Runswick Bay and Robin Hood’s Bay will wake from what can feel like a winter slumber because until the holidaymakers arrive there are so few people about apart from at weekends.

The story of why they are so quiet is told by the combination-lock keysafes on many of the properties. They are the badges of holiday lets or second homes, and those houses and flats standing silent and empty for long periods of the year bear witness to the hollowing-out of too many Yorkshire communities.

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That story is not confined to the coast and the villages between Saltburn and Scarborough.

Runswick Bay is a picturesque fishing village. PIC: James HardistyRunswick Bay is a picturesque fishing village. PIC: James Hardisty
Runswick Bay is a picturesque fishing village. PIC: James Hardisty

It is also a feature of the Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors where residents of town and village alike have long worried about the future of the places they call home because of the seemingly endless transformation of what were once homes into weekend retreats for people from Leeds, Bradford or Sheffield.

Last week saw two significant measures designed to address their worries, both of which were long overdue. The first was the Government announcing that in future, owners of properties will have to obtain planning permission to convert them into short-term lets.

The second was North Yorkshire Council deciding to effectively double the council tax on second homes from April next year.

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Taken together, these measures amount to a much-needed fightback against a damaging trend that is leading to the erosion of community spirit and cohesion in some of Yorkshire’s loveliest places, and equally concerning, driving young people away because they cannot find anywhere to live.

North Yorkshire, in particular, has suffered a huge loss of housing in recent years because so many properties have been snapped up as second homes or converted into holiday accommodation, especially with the rise of Airbnb.

Last year, in both Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, younger people complained bitterly about being priced out of where they grew up.

The scale of the issue in North Yorkshire is shown by figures from the National Housing Federation, which found the area has more than 8,000 second homes, which is the highest number anywhere in our county.

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Behind that number are stories of frustration on the part of people unable to find a home, whether to rent or buy, but there is another narrative too – of places which are losing the young who ought to be their future.

Over time, their loss means economic and social decline because as the remaining population ages, businesses and public services cannot find the staff they need and schools shut because of falling pupil numbers.

Doubling the council tax on North Yorkshire’s second homes will bring in up to £16.5m a year – almost half of which could come from Scarborough, Whitby and Filey – and every penny of it is needed if the area is to help people find somewhere to live.

But rolling back a trend that has seen some villages, especially on our coast, veering more towards resembling holiday camps than real communities won’t be easy.

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The rules covering new short-term lets, which give councils more control over the loss of permanent homes, don’t do anything to address those which already stand empty in places such as Staithes for long periods of the year.

But another aspect of the new regulations holds out the potential to boost revenues to provide housing in North Yorkshire.

A mandatory register of short-term lets will give councils a much clearer picture of how many such properties there are, and the Government should have the courage to take action to ensure the owners are paying their fair share of taxes and business rates on what they earn from them.

There is an underground economy operating in some of Yorkshire’s best-loved holiday destinations which is turning over a lot of money on which no tax is paid, even while the owners of properly-registered businesses pay up what they owe.

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This is a source of great annoyance to honest owners of guest houses, hotels and flats who see people taking their trade and paying nothing from their Airbnb rentals.

It surely should not be insurmountably difficult to compare the new register of lets with the Inland Revenue returns of people who own the properties and ask some pointed questions of those who declare no earnings from them.

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