Increasing levels of second home ownership in the Yorkshire Dales have left the national park with a “flight of working-age people, school closures, loss of services and hollowed-out communities”, local politicians and campaigners have said.
The Yorkshire Dales national park authority chairman, Carl Lis, said people looking to the area for a picturesque bolthole were stimulating the housing market and helping to create “a gaping affordability gap between house prices and local wages”.
Around 1,500 properties in the Yorkshire Dales are second homes – more than 10% of the total housing stock.
When Yvonne Peacock’s two sons were little in the late 1970s, their home of Bainbridge, a small village in the national park, was full of children. “There were loads of them. They all used to play out on the village green,” she recalls. “You don’t get that any more.”
Peacock, now the leader of Richmondshire district council and a local business owner, has lived in Bainbridge all her life and has watched as the shops have closed and the local primary school has gone from having more than 100 pupils when she was a child to just over 20 today.
“This one here is a second home. That one over there is a second home. The one up there is a second home,” she says, gesturing at empty stone cottages that can be seen from the window of her tearoom in Bainbridge. “Every time something goes on the market it’s sold as a second home because our own people can’t afford to buy them.”
Yvonne Peacock in Bainbridge. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer
In an attempt to tackle the problem, Peacock has joined forces with Richard Foster, the leader of Craven district council, and Lis to call for more powers to “significantly increase” council tax for second home owners. Though the scale of the proposed increase is yet to be determined, it is likely to be more than double. The national park’s chief executive, David Butterworth, has previously suggested it could be increased by more than 10 times, calculated on the economic loss to the area caused by homes lying empty for most of the year.
A detailed proposal to tackle the problem of second homes – including raising council tax – will be brought to a meeting of the national park authority on 19 December. If approved, the plans will then go to the national park’s constituent local authorities for consideration.
While Peacock has nothing against the second home owners personally – they do, after all, share her love for the national park’s distinctive rolling landscape – she says the fact they are only in the area for a fraction of the year costs the local economy dearly. “Something has to be done to make sure our villages don’t die.”
Research published last month by the Centre for Towns, a thinktank, showed that since 1981 Britain’s smaller towns and villages had lost more than a million people aged under 25 and gained more than 2 million over-65s. “All across the north of England we have seen a flight of young people from the more remote rural areas like the Dales – and only a trickle of young people and families have come in to replace them,” said Foster as he announced council tax proposals this week.