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Hamish McRae

There are no easy answers to 'Cornwall problem'

You cannot ban people from buying second homes. It is not a left/right political debate, it is a practical one

So Cornwall is the second-home capital of England, and a quarter of a million people have homes in London they don't live in full time – and there is a housing shortage, with rents driven beyond many people's reach. What's to be done?

There is a short answer – to build more homes. But that takes years and, in any case, housing is likely to remain under pressure from a rising population. So the focus shifts to figuring out whether we can use the existing stock more effectively and second homes become an obvious target.

Well you cannot ban people from buying them. It is not a left/right political debate, it is a practical one: families could share home ownership between their children; spouses could each designate one home as their principal one; what do you do about foreigners who buy homes here; and do you want to encourage people to buy their second homes abroad?

The issue is much more whether taxation could be tweaked to encourage better use of the housing stock. Applying full council tax would be one option. Another would be to increase taxes on property more generally. But you would not want to do anything that discouraged people from buying homes to rent, nor would you want to make it less attractive for international companies to locate in London and the South East.

But what about locals being priced out by weekenders – the Cornwall problem? Guernsey reserves 90 per cent of its property for locals. But watch what you wish for. Property might be cheaper but would Cornwall be more prosperous if fewer people holidayed there?