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Union calls for second homes to be seized for the homeless

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 09, 2012

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Under-used holiday homes in the South West should be seized by councils in areas with an acute shortage of properties, a leading union has urged.

Local authorities in Devon and Cornwall should be given compulsory purchase powers on second homes only used a few weeks each year for holidays in certain areas, according to the GMB.

The call comes after research showed more than 40,000 people own a holiday home in the South West, with almost 32,000 living outside the region.

A report by the National Housing Federation revealed a chronic shortage of homes in the South West, where the housing waiting list rose by a quarter to more than 186,000 last year – the biggest in the country. More than 10,000 people have a holiday home in Cornwall and normally live elsewhere – the highest number for an authority in the region according to the 2011 Census data. The next highest was the South Hams with 3,738 holiday homes, and 2,405 in East Devon.

The union said local authorities should be given powers to levy taxes on under-used holiday houses, or even the power to buy the properties.

Mark Kaczmarek, cabinet member for housing and planning at Cornwall Council, said: "Although the idea of compulsory purchase is unrealistic, the public needs to lobby the Government on this issue.

"Councils need to be given more power to take action on properties which are very seldom used.

"Under-used second homes blight local communities, increase house prices, and are a complete waste of resources."

The NHF study found that more than 27,000 new households were formed in the region last year, but only 16,100 new homes were built.

Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George said owners of properties defined as second homes should be subject to higher taxes and have to seek planning permission.

Claire Wright, Independent East Devon District Councillor, said: "I applaud the GMB for putting the spotlight on this very important and spiralling issue, which is getting bigger every year."

"The idea of compulsory purchase is useful but it might be an unsuccessful policy with local councils having to cut their budget by 30%.

"The Government should, at least, impose higher taxes on holiday homes empty for most of the year."

Across the 37 local councils in the region, there are 40,030 people with holiday homes.

John Philips, GMB regional secretary said: "In many areas urgent action is needed to ascertain if properties used as holiday homes are actually in use at all." A Communities and Local Government Department spokesman said new legislation had given councils the flexibility to remove council tax relief on second homes and empty homes.

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  • Northdevonman  |  November 22 2012, 12:06PM

    The principle problem in the South West as a whole is low wages (if indeed work is available). It might be plausibly argued that the dominance of the tourist and service industry's in the region is a significant contributor to this problem. I always find it curious that when a proposal is muted by a potential significant employer to construct (for example) a manufacturing facility up here in North Devon that MIGHT create skilled large scale employment for local people, a raft of letters quickly appear in the Journal arguing against 'such a blot on OUR beautiful landscape' signed 'name supplied' West London or some such far flung part of the country. I have no issue with people who wish to buy a second home, or even how many weeks they might decide to use it. However, there is little doubt that in a region where average wages are comparatively low compared to many other regions, second home purchases do distort the housing market which should after all (if the market is allowed to work correctly), be affordable and accessible to the localised majority and reflect the average wage and mortgages that can be secured upon it. I do take issue with second home owners choosing to voice opinion on potential development in North Devon simply because it spoils their particular perception of a rural idyll. If ever their was an area in need of significant and high quality employment creation and inward investment it is here. So, no more supermarkets built primarily to satisfy the demands of a regular summer influx of cash laden holiday makers please (that cash would be better spent in local small retailers), rather high quality and large scale employment please, and second home owners, even in a democracy you have no right to argue against such developments, that ultimately if allowed to happen, might provide my children with an opportunity to stay and lead a successful life in the place they were born and raised. Simply, if the average wage was raised in the west country, then the housing market would naturally reach an equilibrium where a majority would have access. This however does seem a distant dream, so action does need to be taken whereby all have access to good quality housing, whether social for those who need it, or home ownership for those that desire. Possibly those who are purchasing a property for holiday use or as an investment vehicle should be compelled to pay a further significant percentage of the purchase price, which is lodged with the LOCAL area (Parish Council?), contributing toward a fund which can be used to construct modern housing specifically for local people? This would result in an overall decline of second home purchases and re-balance the housing market as a consequence, while also creating further and much needed housing stock that would assist in retaining young people in an area that needs their revitalising presence. As for those that argue a house price crash will benefit us all, I suspect that they will be aware that the only true beneficiaries of such an event (at least in the immediate aftermath), are institutional investors and people of wealth for whom an opportunity arises to pick up a bargain for cash. The irony would seem to be that properties purchased in this manner would become holiday lets where profit margins are considerably greater than annual private letting to local people, and of course individuals searching for second homes. In short I find it difficult to fathom why second home owners choose to spend a few weeks a year in an area, but involve themselves in its politics and development to protect their own narrow self interest on an annual basis. I also feel that beyond the council tax, they should be compelled to contribute to a far higher degree to the area in which they choose to turn into their home away from home. However, a balance must be struck between the reasonable and punitive on this matter.

  • b_mused  |  November 09 2012, 10:37PM

    @2ladybugs - Not Labour I'm afraid and don't want to hold anyone back. A lot of people who jumped on this gravy train subsequently sold their homes at big profits and moved out to the Costa del Sol. These houses were sold off at less than the cost of replacing them so the philosophy of home ownership for all has backfired - hence the current shortage. As an income / council tax payer, I have absolutely no objection to contributing to good housing for people less well off than me BUT I do not like to see my money squandered on someone else's capital gain. Other than that I completely agree with you. Goodnight.

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 10:04PM

    I actually find it sad that the Labour mindset are content to hold people back rather than give them a chance to better themselves.

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 10:03PM

    Surely selling the old stock of council homes to sitting council tenants, gave these council tenants the chance of owning a property of their own, which they otherwise probably wouldn't have been able to afford? Perhaps if a few more are sold, the monies gained from them could then build more for social housing. It gives everybody a chance to a) get on the property ladder b) give more people a chance of a home.

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  • b_mused  |  November 09 2012, 9:35PM

    Thatcher's policy of selling council houses to tenants for peanuts (Cameron said he wants to do the same) was a disaster. Building more council / social housing for locals who can't afford to buy would help reduce the demand for private housing and reduce prices. A few "affordable" houses on private developments won't help. Of course, the demand for housing has also increased due to uncontrolled immigration, the breakdown of families and the single mother trend but no one wants to sort these problems out.

  • jabbathebutt  |  November 09 2012, 8:51PM

    @bleach ... is that right ? You obviously wrote your pedantic drivel before you saw the 800 new flats for students in the Herald today .

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  • 2ladybugs  |  November 09 2012, 4:51PM

    Mom55 2.24pm "The least people could do with their second homes is rent them out when they are not in use," So are you suggesting that the house is rented say to a family, but when the owners want to come down for a holiday in their house, the family have to move out?

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  • lweston  |  November 09 2012, 4:23PM

    Yeh Lots and lots of union leaders are on a lot lot more than £7.60 an hour, unlike the their followers. Prosperous forward thinking hard working and wise people bought second and third houses as a pension, nothing wrong with that unless of course you are one of the ones that think the world owes you a living or of course your dizzy sights are set on £7.60 an hour for the next 10 years,

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  • SuperTramp  |  November 09 2012, 2:49PM

    Lot's of our Westcountry MPs have second homes - in London.

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  • spindles12  |  November 09 2012, 2:33PM

    timplymouth, to quote something you said:- There is a shortage of housing so I have no problem with rationing being brought in. It's the ultimate selfish behaviour to own a second home and only use it a few weeks in the year." My husband and I have owned a holiday home in Paignton for around four years. We visit it every other weekend and members of our family or friends fill in most of the other weeks or weekends throughout the Summer and Winter so our holiday home isn't empty for, as someone said, 90% of the year. When we bought the house it wasn't in the £500,000+ bracket, in fact it was £210,000 and we knocked it down to £195,000 so it's hardly a "fat cat holiday home. We actually did it a favour because the property, although owned by an elderly person, had been left fully furnished but unoccupied for four years while that person was in a home and was only released for sale when the person died. The house is getting far more use now than it did for the previous four years. Obviously the Council Tax was being paid and yet the facilities were not being used. It's been suggested that the Council does a compulsory purchase on all properties that are sometimes left empty, like ours, but how would they ever decide on how many weeks you had to stay in it and how would they find out if you'd stayed there or not? I am of the opinion that it is the owner's or guardians right to keep or sell their houses as they please. Why should they have it taken off them because it's not lived in for all 365 days of the year? Speaking of Council Tax, I heard on Radio Devon a week or so ago that people who own holiday homes are choosing to pay the full Council Tax rather than using the 10% discount because when they pay the full amount that holiday home immediately comes out of the holiday home bracket and goes into the private sector and therefore can't be touched (or compulsorily purchased I assume). We already pay £1345.34 so an extra £149.48 will be well worth the money. If all the owners did this then the number of "holiday homes" would plummet and the people who object to holiday homes and their owners would have to think of something else to moan about.

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