Whitby to hold first town meeting in 20 years to vote on future of second homes and holiday lets

A rare town meeting will take place in Whitby on Thursday night to resolve an increasingly fraught debate over the town's property market.

The Assembly of the Town Meeting of Whitby will be held in the James Cook Theatre of the Whitby Coliseum at 6.30pm.

The attendees will debate whether to introduce a covenant that ensures all new-build homes in the town must be the owner's or tenant's primary residence in perpetuity.

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Though anyone can attend, only registered electors of the parish can actually vote on the motion or speak at the meeting.

Whitby

If approved, Scarborough Council would assess and ultimately enforce the ruling.

The meeting was called at the parish's Annual Assembly on April 20.

Electors joining the meeting will have their addresses checked against the register of voters. Whitby Town Council fund the meeting, but can only take part in an advisory capacity and the outcome is decided by the parish.

There are now 1,680 second homes in Whitby alone, and it's thought around 20 per cent of the housing stock is either a second home or holiday let.

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Businesses have complained of poor footfall at weekdays and in the winter, while the situation has driven up property prices for local residents.

If the motion passes at the meeting, it will proceed to a town poll - a kind of hyperlocalised referendum that will gauge local opinion to be passed to Scarborough Council.

There has not been such a vote in Whitby since 2002, when an election was held on a controversial retail development at Endeavour Wharf. A parish meeting more recently called for a poll on Whitby leaving North Yorkshire and becoming part of Teesside, but this was ruled inadmissable by Scarborough's returning officer and the election never took place.

Whitby Town Council clerk Michael King said: "The parish holds an Assembly once a year, but these meetings can he held as often as people like, and they can seek to influence the borough council. At the Annual Assembly in April, around 60 electors resolved to raise the question about second homes.

"The town polls are very rare anywhere in the country, and Whitby has had more than most places. They're funny things, and some of the laws are quite archaic. The government tried to reform them in 2014 and make them more pertinent to a parish council's activities. This issue doesn't fit that bill really, and Scarborough Council are already taking steps towards tackling it - plus it affects other parishes (such as villages on the coast near Whitby).

"The legislation from 1972 is 50 years old and times have moved on. In a parish of a few hundred people, polls would have been a good way of finding out their views, but with 13,000 people in Whitby it's quite expensive and there are other, more 21st-century persuasive mechanisms available, such as online questionnaires and petitions. But there is a cachet to them, as they are part of a legislative process - albeit with unclear rules."

It only requires 10 electors or a third of those present at the meeting to call for a town vote. If this were to happen, there would be one polling station open only in the evening and a 'yes or no' question.

Conservative councillor Phil Trumper, who represents the Esk Valley ward on Scarborough Council, told the April 20 meeting: “Places like Church Street and other areas in Whitby are being taken up for second homes and holiday lets.

“Thirty years ago you could buy down there for relatively reasonable prices.

“But we’re now looking at a situation where one property came on the market about five months ago for £450,000 for a two-bedroom semi-detached house with no parking.

“We’re already at a tipping point and something needs to be done.

“If it isn’t done, Whitby will turn into a town with no community and where people can’t afford to live.”

Scarborough Council has spent the past 18 months researching the problem and will look at how it could be addressed as part of a review of its Local Plan.

However, concerns have been raised that a ban on new homes being sold to second homers could just heap more pressure on older housing stock which would not be covered by the covenant.

Steve Wilson, planning policy and conservation manager at Scarborough Council, said: “If you bring in a policy there is certainly going to be a small impact - maybe five per cent - on the value of properties. That has been shown in other areas in the country.

“But I don’t think a five per cent reduction is going to make house prices affordable to local people.

“At the same time, you are potentially going to lose out on a lot of affordable housing that is there directly for local people.”

Mr Wilson said the “most practical way” to tackle the problem would be for the government to change legislation which determines how all properties can be used.

Under the Town and Country Planning Order 1987, planning permission is not currently required to change a home into a second home or holiday let.

But the council believes a requirement for people to apply for such permission would give greater control over where second homes and holiday lets are allowed.

Elsewhere in the country, a ban on the sale of new houses as non-primary residences has been introduced in St Ives, Cornwall, although it has been claimed that the policy has backfired by causing damage to the local construction and tourism industries.

Northumberland County Council is introducing a policy in its Local Plan to restrict second homes. This will be limited to areas where the proportion of second homes and holiday lets exceeds 20 per cent.