Get off my land! Employment crisis forces the Dales to ban 'second-homers'

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The Independent Online

The perks of a job at the Kearton Country Hotel in the Yorkshire Dales include a decent wage and eight hours a day at the top of beautiful Swaledale, so the staff shortage seems improbable. Adverts for three staff in the local paper have come to nothing. As usual.

The perks of a job at the Kearton Country Hotel in the Yorkshire Dales include a decent wage and eight hours a day at the top of beautiful Swaledale, so the staff shortage seems improbable. Adverts for three staff in the local paper have come to nothing. As usual.

The problem is caused by wealthy weekenders. In the Dales, one in five homes is already a retirement or second home. Prospective employees cannot move into the area because house prices have doubled in three years, leaving nowhere affordable for a workforce. In the Dales, the most substantial price inflation came in 2000, when house prices soared to £152,000 compared to £95,000 in Yorkshire and £81,000 nationally.

The hotel's joint proprietor, Ian Danton, says: "If it doesn't improve, we are going to think about selling the business."

His staff problem is typical in the area. But this week, the Yorkshire Dales National Park announced that it had government approval to prevent "second-homers" buying new houses. The restricted occupancy policy means all new houses, including barn conversions, must be occupied by local people; none can be bought as second homes or holiday lets.

The inspector's approval of the policy is a relief to the national park. Many of the villages suffer from a "generation gap", with first-time buyers between 20 and 30 forced away by soaring house prices. Since the Dales had its last restrictive occupancy policy overturned by the Conservative government in 1996, much of the property in some villages is empty, except for a few weekends each year.

All national parks are trying to introduce planning regimes that prevent outsiders choking regional economies by their quest for a country bolt-hole. Exmoor set the ball rolling by proposing that new homes can be taken only by people who have lived in the area for 10 years, or who have a job near by, after the average house price there had increased by 31 per cent in three years, to £187,603.

The Peak District, facing 20 per cent increases in property prices in some areas, followed suit. Last year, Aberdeenshire council said it was considering becoming the first local authority in Britain to declare "pressured-area status", and suspend the right-to-buy of tenants, to maintain some level of affordable housing stock in desirable villages, such as Braemar.

The moves are the slow accomplishment of a policy that the Government resisted in the late 1990s when it rejected proposals to charge full council tax on second homes for fear of alienating middle-class voters.

Other national parks have included extra stipulations designed to close the loopholes that have recently enabled some outsiders in the Peak District to get around the locals-only policy. Occupiers of Peak District homes in the £300,000 range have won an appeal because they cannot sell their homes to locals - and stay within planning regulations - since only outsiders can afford the asking prices.

The Dales National Park has stipulated that new houses must also must be smaller and less costly. Peter Watson, the head of planning, says: "There is no logic in meeting open-market demand because we can't build enough houses to bring prices down to levels affordable for local people without destroying the landscape. So the obvious approach is to build homes only for people who work here."

The new rules must be considered by the Dales National Park's planning authority next month, before their official introduction. That is too late to help the staff-strapped Wensleydale Creamery. It has to import workers from Birmingham to meet the Christmas rush.

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