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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK

Meacher proposes second-home ban

Second homes are pricing locals out of the market

Wealthy people could be barred from owning second homes in the countryside to prevent long-term residents being priced out of the rural property market, Environment Minister Michael Meacher has suggested.

Mr Meacher floated the idea of zoned areas outside cities earmarked for "affordable housing" for local people.

The minister told a packed fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth that "privileged" people should not be able to "rob" local people of the right to a home.

At the meeting, organised by the Council for the Protection of Rural England, he raised the idea as he outlined his thoughts on a government white paper on the countryside to be published in coming months.

[ image: Environment Minister Michael Meacher told the meeting he had a second home himself]
Environment Minister Michael Meacher told the meeting he had a second home himself
Mr Meacher suggested the government might guarantee minimum levels of public services, such as post offices and doctors' surgeries, for rural communities.

Rural transport could be improved through an extension of existing bus services and local authority promotion of car-sharing, he said.

On the subject of the "tremendous problem" of rural house prices, Mr Meacher said: "There are many young people from families who have lived in the countryside for generations who want to stay there, who want to marry and get a house.

"They find it extremely difficult because of the existence of those who can buy up property, force up property prices and make it extremely difficult for people who have more right than anyone else to stay in the countryside."

'Robbing others of a home'

He went on: "One of the things I would argue for over the question of second homes - and let me say I am someone who has a second home so I am not denigrating the possession of second homes - but people like me who are privileged should not be in the position to rob other people of a home, which is a basic right.

"Perhaps we need to zone land in terms of sustainable development, as that is the over-arching theme, and that could exclude in some cases second homes and include affordable housing for people who need it."

Ministers 'should talk freely'

The environment minister added that the countryside was going to be "pretty near the top of the political agenda" as Labour approached the next general election.

Of the ideas he raised during the course of the meeting, Mr Meacher said: "I'm not saying this is what the government is necessarily going to do but this is the way I'm thinking and I'm one of the players in this process."

He went on to say that while there was no first draft of the White Paper, "we have had a lot of ideas swimming around and what I wanted to share with you were some of the themes.

"I know ministers are only ever expected to talk about what has already been agreed after the Whitehall process, but I think it's a terrible pity. I think ministers should be free to talk freely and openly."

Meacher 'off the rails'

Shadow environment secretary John Redwood said: "Michael Meacher appears to have gone off the rails in these ramblings over rural housing.

Fox hunting
"He seems to have in mind Soviet-style direction of who is allowed to live in certain rural areas and who is banned from such areas.

"How on earth does he propose to enforce this in a free country?"

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, which organised a demonstration at the conference earlier this week to protest against government plans to ban foxhunting, said: "It is simply unrealistic to suggest that people's freedom can be restricted in this way.

"What is important is to find ways to ensure that second home owners and incomers involve themselves fully in the local economy by using local shops and services, so that money from outside benefits these communities."

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