When is a home not a home?

14 Jun

There is no doubt that one of the biggest political talking points in Cornwall concerns “Second Homes”. These vary between a little cottage in the country that an urban family uses as a bolt hole at weekends and plan to retire to, and a massive £1m plus mansion with river mooring. The spread of second homes varies, but Cornwall has more than any other part of the UK, and density is thought to be in the range of 10% to 70% of the houses in some villages having no permanent residents.

 

What often goes unseen is the damage to the community that second homes cause. I get out and about in Cornwall on a daily basis and talk to local people. Some of the things that have been mentioned to me are as follows:

 

  • Lack of services because there are not enough people in the winter-time to justify opening, (Post Office, Pub, School, Shop, Small Business etc.)
  • Certain services are grouped further away and require transport to reach them, (Doctor’s Surgery, Dentist, Bank etc)
  • Some shops are only open during the summer and sell beach wear and low grade consumable items. They are left locked up during the winter
  • There is no community support, one lady said she might collapse and never be found because she has no neighbours, another said she was a full time carer and she had nobody to watch her husband, who has dementia, while she went to the shop.
  • There are no more flower shows and garden fetes like there used to be because the stalwarts of the village who organised them have moved.
  • When certain work has to be done by people such as the Water Board, they need to consult with the population if the road is to be closed. One very popular sea-side village needed a new sewer laid and this would have shut off a lot of the centre. The Utility could only contact 9% of the population in October.

 

Other problems relate to the ageing population. The second homes are often bought with a view to using them full time on retirement. Consequently there are already the normal cohort of residents who have lived there all their lives and are now growing old, plus the influx of elderly people coming to take up residence in their second home. The other angle on this demographic is that there is a similar decline in the number of young people. Newly married couples cannot afford the house prices. This is because the house prices have been inflated by demand, plus the fact that the people buying them as second homes are either able to mortgage their other property, or are holding down a very well paid job in the City.

 

A fact that took me by surprise is that although I knew that people have only one vote in a General Election, I didn’t realise that second home owners have two votes in Local Elections. This is presumably because as they have to pay Council Tax to the Local Authority there can be no taxation without representation. Therefore some Cornwall Councillors, with a small majority, are actually elected by two or three hundred voters who live hundreds of miles away from Cornwall.

 

So what to do? Questions have been asked in Parliament regarding bringing in  Change of Use legislation under the Town & Country Planning Act. This would mean a reclassification from Use Class C3 Dwellinghouses to B1 Small Business in a Residential Area if it could be proven that the owner of the property was renting it to others. If not, to reclassify the house as Sui Generis as this is a “catch-all” term for properties that do not fall into the other Use Classes. The latest situation is that the Government has refused to take any action, believing that the charging of Council Tax will be sufficient to control the problem. A slightly milder approach might be to use a By-law to cause second homes to be registered, because we do not know how many there are. Once registered it might then be possible to impose planning conditions such as provision of off-road parking. However, any such measures could be circumvented. This problem is now too big for half measures and requires the combined action of all political parties to prevent a disaster for Cornwall.

 

 

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