GP Taylor: Time to stop silent destruction of villages

ON a late November afternoon, I stood on the beach at Runswick Bay and looked back at the picturesque houses. The sun was setting, long shadows were fading into the approaching night. It was only then that I noticed the lack of lights at the windows. It was a village that looked lifeless.

LIGHTS OUT: Urgent action is needed to preserve villages like Runswick Bay for local families, says GP Taylor. PICTURE: Gerard Binks.

Later, in the pub, I was told that only seven of the 70 or so houses ‘at the bottom of the bank’ were occupied by villagers. The rest were owned by incomers from Middlesbrough or West Yorkshire. Yet only a few decades before, the village had been a thriving community where people lived in summer as well as in winter.

Sadly, Runswick Bay is just a collection of second homes owned by people who have no permanent connection to the village. It is a facade of beauty, like a body with the heart removed.

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The story is the same in many places on the coast and in the Dales. Rich outsiders buy up the quaint houses at hyped prices that locals cannot afford. These temporary dwellers do little for the local community. Food is delivered by the Asda van. They may occasionally venture to the local pub but even that is not enough to keep some communities alive.

With the pernicious purchases of beauty spot houses, many of our communities are dying. Schools are closing, locals are being forced to leave and businesses are going bust.

Soon, vast swathes of the coast and Dales will be nothing more than holiday villages without permanent residents. They will no longer be communities but just second homes for the rich to boast about. People who were born and bred in those places will no longer be able to live there. Vendors take the highest price they can with scant regard that their Judas shillings are forcing the next generation of locals away.

It is alarming to think that half of all the houses in the Dales are now second homes. Some areas of Yorkshire may never again have any permanent residents.

In parts of the old town of Scarborough, the locals known as ‘Bottom Enders’, are becoming a rare breed. A once vibrant collection of houses that were owned by some of the most well known fishing families now stand empty for most of the year.

They are sold on at exorbitant prices where a two bedroom cottages sells in excess of £200,000 – twice the price of a terraced house only a mile away. Occupants are now TV executives, actors and wealthy business owners wanting to recreate a Kensington-By-Sea.

It is not just a Yorkshire issue. Cornwall suffers from the same blight. Twenty five per cent of Cornish housing are second homes. A situation that is no longer sustainable.

However, St Ives has a novel way of dealing with the problem. Residents have declared war on the wealthy ‘Grockles’ who buy up the housing stock by banning anyone from having a second home.

These are the proposals of the Neighbourhood Development Plan that could be voted into planning law next year.

Like Cornwall, we in Yorkshire should advocate the same laws. The buying of second homes should be banned. Those who already have holiday homes should be taxed until the pips squeak.

By charging them at least an extra £1,000 a year for the privilege of having a second home, millions in revenue could be raised that could be ploughed back into the local community.

This money could subsidise special purchase agreements that would enable locals to buy homes that they couldn’t afford before.

It could sponsor shared equity schemes, pay for educational support or infrastructure for the elderly. It could be put towards a reduction in business rates to help out those businesses that are being affected by a lack of local trade.

Second home owners should be forced to sell their houses to people with a local connection at prices they can afford.

Such a plan would stop the decline in local communities. It is vital for the life of our county that this disgraceful use of property is stopped. The needs of the community are greater than the personal desires of wealthy individuals.

Radical action is needed to maintain the valuable presence of rural and coastal communities. For too many years we who dwell in these areas have gone along with the wholesale purchase of houses by outsiders from far away towns.

We have ignored the silent destruction at the heart of our community. The tables need to be turned. The importance of permanent residents has to be more valued.

The lights would then again burn brightly. Villages like Runswick and Robin Hood’s Bay would again echo with laughter of a vibrant local community and not just the faint voices of the ghosts of the past. Schools would no longer need to close due to lack of children. Pubs and shops would open their doors much longer and the village green would be a place of meeting once more.

* Sir Bernard Ingham is away.

GP Taylor is a bestselling author from near Scarborough.