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Seaside town dwellers vote to restrict second home ownership

Written by: Shekina Tuahene
Citizens of seaside town Whitby, Yorkshire, have voted to restrict second home ownership solely to full-time residents.

The local council ran a poll on Monday, which asked: ‘Should all new build and additional housing in Whitby parish be restricted to full time local occupation as a primary residence only and forever (in perpetuity)?’

Residents overwhelmingly voted in favour of restricting second home sales to non-locals with 2,111 saying ‘yes’ and just 157 saying ‘no’. 

The turnout was 22.72% and simply expresses the views of the electorate. There is no legal requirement for the sale of homes to be limited to residents only. 

Whitby Town Council said the poll was a “measure of public opinion” which needed to be considered by Scarborough Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council as the responsible bodies for these issues.  

Demonstrates depth of feeling towards overabundance of second homes

Mayor, Linda Wild, said: “This demonstrates the importance of this issue for local people and the depth of feeling of being crowded out of affordable housing by an overabundance of second homes and holiday lets which distort the market. The power to tackle this lies with the borough council – which is making attempts to confront the problem – and with government – which needs to amend the planning regulations to make it possible to protect local housing for primary residence. 

“We need a ‘use class’ which applies to holiday lets. Then the planners can manage that change of use. We also need to tax second homes and holiday homes more effectively through council tax and business rates to reflect the impact they have on local people.” 

She added: “Whitby is not unique in this predicament and local people want their voice heard by government alongside people from Cornwall, North Norfolk, Northumberland and the Lakes. We absolutely need government to give local people the power to keep holiday resort communities sustainable.” 

Measured responses needed

Andrew Soye, director of Holiday Cottage Mortgages, said the vote was based on data which suggests a quarter of homes in Scarborough – the joint constituency of Whitby – are holiday lets. He said if true, he can “fully understand” why residents are raising concerns. 

He added: “In terms of this action setting a precedent for other locations to put this into context, we estimate there are around 300,000 – 350,000 ‘proper’ holiday lets in the UK, compared to about 27 million homes. As a percentage, that’s under 1.5% and so while there can be ‘hotspots’ like St Ives and Whitby, I don’t see this as a major threat to the holiday let industry.”  

Soye said the concept of a Principal Residence Policy (PRP), which is what may be considered in Whitby, has been used in many rural and coastal locations before. However, he said targetting holiday letting “can be risky and might have unintended consequences”. 

“Throttling the local holiday letting trade, meaning proper rented cottages and not empty second homes, will have a serious detrimental impact on local tourism and all the businesses that depend on that revenue stream. 

“Unfortunately, we have seen in many rural locations that locals alone don’t actually spend enough money on local services like dinners in the pub to keep some businesses above water and a ban on tourists will really hurt these businesses. Also, this proposal could inadvertently end up increasing the value of existing stock such as period homes, which are what holiday let properties tend to be,” he added. 

Soye added: “Why not focus the individual booking levels of each holiday let in the affected area and set a minimum performance threshold, maybe in-line with HMRC’s definition of Furnished Holiday Let and only permit those that are productive and clearly contribute to local tourism to go ahead, and penalise or ban those that are let as a ‘hobby’ or are empty.  

“Would that not be the best of both worlds?” 

Areas are popular for a reason

Joe Stallard, director and adviser at House and Holiday Home Mortgages, said: “There obviously needs to be a balance in these highly popular regions. The last thing anyone wants is people being driven out because of increased prices. A lot of these areas do heavily rely on tourism so if people find they can’t go to these regions because of a lack of holiday accommodation, that will have a massive impact on the area too. Putting restrictions to help local residents is a good thing but there also needs to be recognition that these areas are popular for a reason. 

Stallard added it was “quite possible” this could happen elsewhere but said it would be “specific from region to region”. 

Referring to restrictions recently implemented in Cornwall and Wales, Stallard said: “Local councils will have a responsibility to their residents to make sure they are opportunities to buy but they need to do more than restrict housing. They need to make sure there are job and employment opportunities in the area as well.  

“As long as it’s done in a sensitive and tactful way it can really useful to residents but it also needs to be understood that tourism is important for the area.” 

In March, the Welsh government announced an increase to the maximum level of council tax for second homes and long-term empty properties – from 100% to 300% effective from April 2023.

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