Tim Farron - We need to take action on housing to protect our communities

26 February 2018

The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the environment, food and rural affairs, on why second homes threaten the right to live in a viable community.

Last year, the Lake District became Britain’s 31st World Heritage Site, joining a prestigious list of places across the world including the Grand Canyon and Machu Picchu.

This was good news for our area, but it is vital that the Lake District remains a viable place for local people to live. This decision was about protecting and promoting the natural and cultural heritage of our area, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to freeze in aspic our vibrant rural communities. The Lake District must be a place where local people can afford to live, raise a family and find work so that rural communities can thrive.

I have been MP for this part of the world for over 12 years now, and in my time I’ve seen too many communities damaged by properties being left empty. I accept people’s right to have a second home; as a Liberal, who is it for me to deny hard working people the opportunity to buy a bolt-hole in a particularly stunning part of our beautiful country? But this right is surely trumped by people’s right to a first home. And the right to live in a viable, sustainable community.

Tim Farron MP, in the Lake District

Tim Farron MP, in the Lake District National Park.

The South Lakes have one of the highest levels of second home ownership in the country: 7.5% of all properties. This has a massive impact on local communities across the area, and often leads to the decline and closure of key local services like schools, bus services, shops and Post Offices.

Second-home owners generally look for properties at the lower end of the market, and these are the properties that should really be made available for people who need affordable, low cost accommodation.

This tends to price people out of entering the market, and it really saddens me to hear of young people who are forced to move away from areas where they grew up because they have a next to zero chance of getting a foot on the housing ladder.

It is a very real problem and there are always reasons to do nothing, but if we are going to protect our communities from dying out then we need to take some action.

One solution is making it more expensive for people to own an additional property. I have long being calling on the Government to give local councils the power to significantly increase council tax on second homes, and I recently put down a motion in Parliament welcoming the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s decision to become the first local authority in the country to trial a scheme to implement this.

Allowing councils to significantly increase council tax on second homes would not be about penalising second home owners, but about asking them to pay a fair contribution towards those vital local services which are at risk. This would provide councils in areas with high second-home ownership with a fair and effective way of raising funds which could be ring-fenced to fund key local services and deliver affordable homes for lower income families.

Another option to tackle the problem would be to change planning laws to require home owners to seek planning permission if they do not intend to live in the property on a full-time basis.  This process would allow local elected representatives to have a direct say on the level of second home ownership in their communities, giving them the opportunity to reject bids where they feel the number of second homes is having a negative impact on local life. Having the power to reject bids for second homes would allow councils to better meet the needs of the local communities struggling with excessive second home ownership in a fair and effective way.

When you've got so many homes not lived in, it means you don’t have people sending their kids to the local school, using the post office or the bus services. Then you end up with losing those services because they're no longer viable.

It's absolutely vital that as we start to reap the benefits of becoming a World Heritage Site, we have in place the measures which will keep our communities thriving and ensure that Cumbria remains an amazing place to live for everyone.


Click here to read why Carl Lis’, Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, believes second homes are a threat to a vibrant community.