A council leader in the Yorkshire Dales National Park hopes the controversial proposal to seek Whitehall talks over a rise in council tax on the park’s second homes has got the Government listening to the problems plaguing her district’s deeply rural communities.
However, her hopes were dealt a blow when district councillors at a meeting in Richmondshire last night voted against working with seven other district councils in the park and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority on seeking discussions with the Government on the options for increasing council tax on second homes within the park’s boundary.
Leader of Richmondshire District Council Coun Yvonne Peacock had told The Yorkshire Post: “The Richmondshire share of the National Park is declining and we need to talk to the government about it. By having this debate about raising council tax on second homes, I hope this makes the government listen to all the problems we have.”
The proposal has arisen from months of talks between park chiefs and council leaders about a new radical plan of action to attract young families to the Dales.
The wide-ranging issues affecting the long-term future of communities in the Yorkshire Dales National Park were explored in The Yorkshire Post’s ‘Dales in Crisis’ series earlier this month.
At £253,000, average house prices in the park are about eight times higher than average salaries; local services are coming under strain from a disproportionately high older population, with more than a quarter of the park’s residents aged over 65; and upland farming is unprofitable and reliant on EU support payments which will change after Brexit.
Compounded by patchy broadband and mobile phone coverage and a threat of school closures as rolls dwindle, the situation amounts to a social and
economic crisis that the park authority’s chief executive David Butterforth said was a bigger challenge to its communities than the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that ravaged the countryside in 2001.
To help remedy the problems, a new management plan being drawn up by the park authority for the next five years includes an aim to create living and working conditions to attract young families and reduce a widening gap between the proportion of young and older residents.
Prohibitive house prices need to be overcome to achieve that and with viability and land-supply issues preventing new homes from being built, a proposal to raise council tax on second homes has been mooted.
Just 78 per cent of households in the park are in permanent occupation and the park authority believes the tax increase would encourage some existing second homes back into full-time occupancy, discourage the purchase of second homes and see second- home owners make a similar socio-economic contribution to the local area as permanent residents.
Initially, a tax rise of at least five times was mooted but the proposal to councils excludes a specific rate rise.
The proposal to seek talks with the government about a tax rise had already been backed by South Lakeland District Council.
A local action group has been set up to oppose the plan.