THE Lake District is pulling up the drawbridge around its picturesque scenery. Unhappiness with the number of outsiders who buy up weekend cottages in the region has prompted local authorities to consider draconian measures to halt the trend.
A major source of disquiet is second-home syndrome, where city dwellers purchase houses in the Lake District which they use on a handful of occasions leaving local services underused for most of the year. In some areas, such as Skelwith Bridge, near Ambleside and Patterdale, near Ullswater, as many as 40 per cent of houses are second homes. The average across the Lake District National Park is 15 per cent.
The result is that many local villages suffer from a "generation gap", where first-time buyers between the ages of 20 and 30 are forced out of the region by soaring house prices. Some villages are in danger of being "ghettoised" with property empty except for a few weekends each year.
Last week the Lake District National Park Authority approved its local plan, under which virtually all newly-built housing in the region must be sold to people who live or work in Cumbria. Anyone else must turn to existing property.
In a further attack in the south Lakes region, where 10 per cent of the area's 45,000 houses are second homes, there are plans to raise the council tax on such properties. At present, second homes are entitled to a 50 per cent rebate on council tax but South Lakeland district council want to raise it to 100 per cent, bringing in pounds 1.7m a year.
The plan was proposed by Stan Collins, a Liberal Democrat councillor in South Lakeland. "We have an artificial shortage in one of the basic necessities of life - housing," he said. "We're tightly restricted in terms of houses we can provide because of financial constraints and because we are in a National Park."
Prices in the heart of the lakes are higher than the national average, with a three-bedroom cottage in Ambleside fetching up to pounds 85,000, while bungalows overlooking Lake Windermere start at pounds 500,000.
However, many of the houses sold as second homes are at the bottom end of the market, leading to what Mr Collins described as "the forced migration of the younger generation". There is also a culture clash, according to Mr Collins. "Second home owners don't mix with local people. They don't go to things like local dances. In many cases they don't even go to the pub.
"They turn up with bags of stuff from supermarkets and don't shop locally. They even fill up with petrol elsewhere."
"I know it is contentious. A lot of people outside the Lakes will disagree," said Mr Collins. "But in some areas this is causing great hardship in the community."
The plan is being promoted as a Private Bill - a system where local government can present Bills to Parliament - and would only apply to the Lakes. It could, however, prompt similar actions by councils in other tourist areas.
The proposal to raise the council tax on second homes would enable the region "to sustain the communities we have got," said Mr Collins. "This plan would mean that youngsters who are 15 now will have a real chance to set up home in their own community if they wish to do so."
The plan is "whole-heartedly" endorsed by the National Park Authority. "We hope it will help free up some of the existing housing for local people," said Chief Planning Officer John Pattison.
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