The housing market should not be rigged

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The Independent Online

It is difficult not to feel a degree of sympathy with the plight of people in rural communities whose lives have been adversely affected in recent years by an influx of rich outsiders. In many of the most beautiful areas of Britain, the growing number of holiday homes has inflated house prices and is preventing local people from getting on to the property ladder. Because second homes inevitably stand empty for much of the year, this trend has been accused of eroding the quality of village life.

It is difficult not to feel a degree of sympathy with the plight of people in rural communities whose lives have been adversely affected in recent years by an influx of rich outsiders. In many of the most beautiful areas of Britain, the growing number of holiday homes has inflated house prices and is preventing local people from getting on to the property ladder. Because second homes inevitably stand empty for much of the year, this trend has been accused of eroding the quality of village life.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is now considering a plan that will mean all new homes in the area - including the increasingly popular barn conversions - can be sold only to local people and so-called key workers. This would also apply when these homes are sold on. Wealthy outsiders hoping to buy a second home in the Yorkshire Dales would have to make do with the existing housing stock. Other national parks are keeping a close eye on this experiment.

On the surface, it seems reasonable. Local people would be given a helping hand and, if cheaper homes were built within easy distance of local amenities, communities would be re-invigorated. But there would inevitably be problems. Consider a struggling farmer forced by financial necessity to convert a barn and sell it. Would it be fair if he could now sell only to a local person at a price well below the wider market rate? Especially if his neighbour could, in theory, sell an old cottage to an outsider for a vastly-inflated sum? These are the sort of market distortions that would result. There is also the thorny technical question of when someone ought to be considered a "local". And it ought not to be forgotten in all of this that outsiders often contribute substantially to the local economy.

No one denies that many rural communities need help. Now that the 50 per cent council tax discount on second homes has been abolished, local authority funds are available and should be directed to this end. But the fundamental problem behind the breakdown of rural communities is a lack of decent paying jobs. And the solution to this will not be found through rigging the housing market in favour of local people.

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