How much of a threat are Second Homes to Rural Communities?

Charlotte Farrell, Parliamentary and Local candidate in Hope Valley, High Peak says:

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At a recent hustings the issue of second homes came up. It is an issue of some importance in the Derbyshire villages where lots of properties are used as holiday lets or second homes. Not only does it deprive people of the physical opportunity of living in the area but it also pushes up the price of property beyond the means of most local people to be able to afford it.

At the hustings I expressed the view that action needs to be taken to restrict second home ownership. This view was challenged by former Tory minister Edwina Curry, herself a High Peak resident who said that such a policy would ‘devastate’ local villages, and that I was a ‘crack-pot’ for wanting to restrict second home ownership.

Her argument was that the income from second homes was apparently more beneficial to the local economy than that of a person or family living here full time and permanently contributing to the local economy and community, a point I totally disagree with.
How many people who use the holiday homes actually also use our local shops? I suspect most come stocked up with food from their nearest supermarket at home, and only buy the odd item locally. I know that from time to time I have been asked by visitors where the nearest supermarket is, and they’ve seemed surprised to find that it’s in a nearby town, but they would still rather drive there than shop locally, stick with what they are familiar with.

Yes, visitors may eat out in the pubs, but then so do local people and so do people staying in those pubs and in local bed and breakfast accommodation.

And because the price of second properties has pushed up the price in villages, (even more so than prices are pushed up anyway due to our flawed monetary system) many of those local people who do manage to find work in the area are not able to afford their own home. For young people the choice is often stark, move to a town or live with parents. And whilst that may suit for a while if people want to start a family it is hardly ideal.

I know the Yorkshire Dales well, and many of the villages there are totally devoid of young people and after years of houses being bought up as holiday homes they are now dying, schools are closing through lack of numbers and pubs are closing because second home owners do not frequent them enough. The High Peak is not yet at that stage; and we are saved to an extent by being between two large conurbations, Manchester and Sheffield, but that has turned villages into commuter towns and again contributed to the pricing out of local people who want to stay and work in the area.

The part of the Peak District where I live is indeed beautiful, and on the face of it affluent, but I wonder how many people visiting would be shocked to know that there has been a food bank operating in the Hope Valley for a year now. How many would be shocked to know that a lot of the staff who serve them in the pubs and hotels are earning far below the minimum wage let alone a living wage.

So does it make me a crack-pot for wanting to find a way in which people who work in the rural economy can afford to live near to their work, to find a way for young people to be able to remain in their communities and find properly paid work and to be able to aspire to live there and raise their own families. Is it naive of me to want to see rural communities able to hold on to a reasonable level of facilities including a school, some shops and a post office nearby, together with a health centre or at least a Doctor’s surgery that can be accessed by a reliable bus service. To have a pub and some level of community life. Such facilities need a properly paid working population to support the demand and importantly, a balanced age structure.

I want to see our villages as viable communities and the basis of this is affordable housing. I accept that tourists and holidaymakers are an important part of the rural economy and they can help to stop village communities becoming isolated and insular. But when they leave, village life must be able to carry on fulfilling the needs of permanent residents.

There needs to be village plans developed in cooperation with the local community to identify needs and the means of delivering them. Inevitably this will require some protection for housing against speculative purchase. Finding an answer to this will not be easy and I don’t pretend to have the whole answer, but I don’t think that I am being a crack-pot in trying to find one.

First published on the East Midlands Green Party website 27 April, 2015

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