Monday, March 03, 2008

As Francis Scott Key might have put it - the banner yet waves on second homes

Might I say how enlightening it has been to read the responses to yesterday's posting on second homes. The response from my economic liberal friends has been, frankly, much as I might have expected. So, let's see if I can respond in kind...

The notion that a wholly free market model can be allowed to destroy rural life cannot be left unchallenged. It is, as James Schneider so cleverly put it, entirely the right of individuals not to sell their homes in idyllic communities to outsiders looking for a weekend place in the country. Not a country dweller then, James...

As the number of second homes within a village reach a critical mass, local services begin to lose their financial viability and close. Bus services, such as they are, begin to be withdrawn. Village stores and post offices reduce their hours or close, village schools are reorganised out of existence. All of this leads to increased isolation and the temptation, sometimes necessity, to up sticks and move to a larger community, where the critical services they require are more readily available. Those who are left behind, perhaps because their house isn't as 'cute' or 'quaint', find it difficult to sell to more local purchasers, assuming that there are any, due to the lack of facilities.

An alternative solution is that we subsidise rural services, a fine example of the free market economy that my colleagues so boldly trumpet. I think not. Alternatively, we could just let small villages become midweek ghost towns. It doesn't take a crystal ball to see the eventual clamour from those second home owners now the proud possessors of charming homes in dead villages demanding support for their communities from local government whose business rate base has been decimated. Second homes, if left unchecked, cause local government and full-time local residents increased costs without any realistic compensation in return.

What other alternatives are there? We could increase council tax rates for second homes, although the amount charged is pretty much the full amount. Indeed, if we were to increase the charge to properly compensate for additional costs, you would be able to hear the screaming from the middle-classes from Mars (I am, for the record, decidedly middle-class).

It is already the case that planning permission is required for the building of holiday dwellings. Legislation allowing local councils to determine for themselves what level of second home ownership can be sustained without negative impact on their communities is surely consistent with our belief in local autonomy and strong communities.

Yet again, the metropolitan fixation with choice and freedom shows its almost proud lack of understanding and knowledge of the needs, fears and hopes of rural communities, where choice and freedom are fine words not always supported by realistic opportunity. I expect it from Labour, whose concept of the countryside ends where the concrete does. I don't expect it from a political party whose existence was preserved by rural communities who remained loyal to its ideology at a time when almost nobody else cared.

1 comment:

Jock Coats said...

Actually, the "economic liberal" reaction is Land Value Tax. As it has always been.

Apart from probably being taxed more heavily on their urban first home, the second homer would need to value the utility of their second home twice as much as a local person to justify paying the same LVT.