Second home owners in parts of Yorkshire could be hit by higher taxation in a dramatic intervention by council leaders to counter a mass exodus of young families from rural communities.
The move, proposed by civic leaders, is aimed at tackling a critical housing shortage within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Largely empty second homes account for up to 23 per cent of all housing stock in some areas, civic leaders say, while younger generations are faced with the heart-wrenching decision to leave villages and market towns their families have lived in for generations. The economic and social costs are already taking their toll, they warn, as they say action must be taken now to ensure the sustainability and vitality of under-threat communities.
“All across the north of England we have seen a flight of young people from the more remote rural areas like the Dales – and only a trickle of young people and families have come in to replace them,” said Coun Richard Foster, leader of Craven Council. “As local authorities we have a duty to our communities and to this special place to try to address the causes before it is too late.
“I think we’ve come to the point where we would not be doing our duty if we didn’t take a serious look at second homes. Do we really want to be known as the generation that sat on our hands while our communities fell apart?”
The move, from leaders in Richmondshire, Craven and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) would see a “significant” increase in council tax for second home owners. It is one of a number of measures being considered to attract and retain families, with a detailed proposal to be put forward at a meeting of the YDNPA on December 19 in a bid for a five-year pilot scheme.
The YDNPA, which has already relaxed its policy around the conversion of roadside barns to ease the pressure for local families, last month called on developers to consider building new homes within its boundaries to increase its housing supply.
“Communities within the Dales are going to die unless we do something about this,” said leader Coun Carl Lis. “Schools are closing, Post Offices are closing, banks are closing. The community is becoming less viable.
“This is the start of an initiative. There will be an awful lot of obstacles in our way, but we owe it to the future generations of the Yorkshire Dales to try.”
Richmondshire Council leader Coun Yvonne Peacock, who is also a member of the YDNPA, said: “Young people have left the upper Dales in high numbers and one of the reasons why so many have left in recent years - and why so few families are attracted here at the moment- is that good, affordable housing is out of their reach. A large council tax increase on second homes could change that.
“Incentivising the sale or renting out of second homes could bring more homes back into full-time occupancy. For a twenty-something who returns from work each evening to a bedroom in their parents’ house, passing several empty houses on the way must seem very wrong.”