Parliamentary sketch – This is not the politics of envy
I found time to take a detour one recent evening, to walk through streets I hadn’t frequented in recent years. I won’t say where it was. But it could have been a coastal zone of St Ives, Porthleven, Mousehole, Sennen, Cadgwith, Helford or any other local community.
It was an area I knew well. Decades ago I could either have named or pictured the families who lived in the properties. But now they were virtually all empty; many had posters in ground floor windows advertising them for holiday letting.
Of course it is good that the holiday industry still thrives but it is almost as if the housing market operated in spite of the existence of local people on local wages.
Recent estate agents’ surveys I had undertaken have shown that for every home sold to a local first time buyer five have sold to second and holiday home buyers. Indeed, in some parts of the constituency, estate agents told me that 65% of all properties sold went to second home buyers and 0% to first time buyers.
Raising concern about this is not the “politics of envy” but the politics of justice. Indeed, I led the successful Parliamentary campaign 15 years ago against a council tax system set up under the Conservatives in the early 90s which permitted a 50% council tax rebate for second home owners. Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money were being used to subsidise the wealthy to have their second homes through this tax subsidy when thousands of local folk could not afford their first home.
I have also been pressing Ministers to give local authorities powers to better control second home ownership, thus improving the opportunities for local people.
One method would be to change the Use Class Order; where second home purchasers would need to apply for a “Change of Use” to “non permanent residence” for the period of that occupation/ownership. Planning authorities could constrain second home numbers in their Local Plans.
The last Labour Government “kicked it into the long grass” with interminable studies and consultations. And now, although my Liberal Democrat Ministerial colleagues are in favour, I cannot get Conservative Ministers to agree so there’s still no progress yet. But that hasn’t stopped me before.
Cornish people are stoical. Local people deserve credit for remaining as good natured as they have been; especially in circumstances where many local families live in completely unacceptable housing conditions whilst many of the most attractive homes, once occupied by their ancestors, lie empty or idle for the majority of the year.
In present circumstances, doing nothing is no longer an option.
MP for the West Cornwall &
Isles of Scilly constituency of St Ives
21st May 2013