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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
The hidden costs of holiday homes
Steve Hawkes
BBC News Online

There are 3,500 second homes in South Lakeland - exactly the same number as there are people on the district council's housing waiting list.

Many blame holiday homes for house price rises
Many blame holiday homes for house price rises
"That doesn't mean every second-home owner is making someone else in Cumbria homeless," chief executive Philip Cunliffe told BBC News Online.

"But the council is struggling to cope with the problems second homes create," he said.

From Thursday local authorities can charge 90% council tax on second homes and South Lakeland is one of many planning to do just that.

Pushed prices

Reducing the council tax discount on second homes from 50% to 10% will earn South Lakeland more than 750,000, which the local authority is "ring-fencing to spend on improving the supply of affordable housing for local people", said Mr Cunliffe.

Many blame holiday homes for house price rises in areas where an influx of second-home buyers has helped pushed prices beyond the reach of many local people.

But the problems created by second-home owners are two-fold, according to Countryside Agency housing programme manager Lynn Watkins.

She said: "Firstly, they can both restrict supply and increase the cost of housing - locals compete with higher-income earners.

For the first time this breaks the link between the services you use and how much council tax you actually pay
Dr Nick Gallant

"Secondly, second-home owners tend to make less use of local services, undermining their viability."

But is it fair to ask second-home owners to pay more for services they do not use?

Dr Nick Gallant, who researched the impact of second homes on rural areas for the Countryside Agency, believes reducing the second home owners discount is "punitive".

"For the first time this breaks the link between the services you use and how much council tax you actually pay," he told BBC News.

"People living alone get a 25% discount because they are judged to use fewer services."

"Second homes are only one part of the broader housing pressures facing rural communities," Dr Gallant added.

Mr Cunliffe agrees South Lakeland may still struggle to meet its target of creating 140 affordable homes every year - even with the extra revenue from second home owners.

Much of the district is in the Yorkshire Dales or Lake District National Parks, which cannot be developed.

If you can afford to buy a second home, you can afford to pay the council tax
Wendy Gunnell

But the extra revenue would enable the district council to convert more "reusable properties" into accommodation for young people, said Mr Cunliffe.

Ms Watkins said the Countryside Agency was recommending councils use the extra revenue to fund "rural housing enablers" who could help housing associations to "get homes built".

The agency's research suggested increased council tax would not reduce the demand for second homes, she added.

'I feel quite strongly'

Wendy Gunnell, who owns a luxury country retreat in Salcombe, South Devon, where three out of every four properties are second homes and nine out of every 10 sold last year went to outsiders, agrees.

"If you can afford to buy a second home, you can afford to pay the council tax. I feel quite strongly about it."," she told BBC News.

Mr Cunliffe feels even more strongly.

I do not believe many second-home owners will sell - but if they do, good!
South Lakeland District Council chief executive Philip Cunliffe

Reducing the discount will raise second-home owners' annual council tax bills by about 500 in South Lakeland, he said.

"If they can afford 100,000 for a second home, they can afford to pay an extra 500 a year.

"I do not believe many second-home owners will sell - but if they do, good!

"The property will go on the housing market and may be bought by someone living or working locally," he said.

The South Lakeland chief executive has even less sympathy for those who argue the amount council tax charged should be linked to service usage.

Mr Cunliffe said: "I pay 100% council tax on my property,

"I have no children at school, no old-age relatives using social services - but I still pay towards the funds that support those services.

"That is the way a property tax works."




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