Sunday, March 02, 2008

Second homes - policy is theft...

I should, before I write further, declare a personal interest, in that my parents own a second home, somewhere in darkest Gloucestershire.

That said, despite the fact that they've owned it for twenty years or so, I've never been there. "Why not?", I hear you ask. The first reason is a practical one. I don't drive, and never have done, making the property pretty much a trap for me. Yes, you can reach civilisation on foot (apparently), but it doesn't really appeal. The second reason is the principled one. You see, I don't actually much approve for second homes, not for puritanical reasons but because they have a dramatic impact on the communities they are situated in.

Because I have been an inveterate townie all of my life, it hasn't had a lot of impact on me, and my lack of knowledge with regards to local government means that even if it did, I really would have little clue as to what alternatives there might be to address it. Now that I am, at least, a part-time country dweller, I have begun to appreciate more precisely the fragility of small rural communities. In terms of local government knowledge, being engaged to Ros has filled much of the void.

And so, I find myself agreeing with much of the proposals coming from Matthew Taylor's commission, as commissioned by one Comrade Brown. They are strangely familiar though, and as the mists cleared over mid-Suffolk (the metaphorical ones, at least), I was reminded that this is actually established Liberal Democrat policy.

There are elements that I am uncomfortable with. Empowering local council officials to ascertain whether or not a property is a second home risks being intrusive, although if this is what is required to protect rural services, I'm willing to countenance it. I suppose that the question is, which house is the second one? What criteria might you use to establish this? It could be the order of purchase, or residence for the purposes of voting (would the latter accelerate the decline in voter registration in big cities?), or even a simple election. Perhaps linking it to principle private residence relief might be the better solution. You would then force people to declare one way or the other.

All this said, however, this whole debate is part of an attempt by a Labour Party in terminal philosophical decline to clothe itself in our finery. The worst thing about it is that their lack of credibility actually detracts from the good ideas that they're stealing. Time to take the initiative back, methinks, and take it to this wretched Government ...

4 comments:

Alix said...

Oh for all love, don't link it to PPR election! This can be changed literally on a monthly basis if the owner is so minded, and it's perfectly possible to elect somewhere as your PPR for a WEEK and still get all the benefits of PPR exemption on the profits of a sale. It's one of the worst perfectly legal tricks in tax.

Just double whichever is the lower of the council taxes! :-D

Jock Coats said...

All together now...

Elver tea, elver tea, elver tea,
Elver tea, elver tea, elver te-ea

(I thought it might be suitable for Gloucestershire...:)

I guess this means I've missed my chance to feed into Matthew's review does it? Bugger!

James Schneider said...

I'm sorry but this is a dreadful policy. If people in idyllic villages did not want outsiders buying second homes there then they shouldn't sell to them. This will limit the supply of second homes driving up the price. There will then be non price competition between vendors to lobby the council so that they can sell their house for an artificially high level. This will be exacerbated by the fact that the demand for houses that do not get the "OK for 2nd home" stamp will fall, as will their prices. So this will lower the value of assets of those without the contacts to councillors and planning agencies whilst those who do will get a big financial boon. I'm afraid this doesn't benefit those its trying to help. Foolhardy indeed.

This is not to say that the issue of rural services, their coverage, service, and efficiency are not very important issues, yet this is not the solution. Its a sound bit policy with very unpleasant, hopefully, unintended consequences.

Lee Griffin said...

Quadruple it and maybe you'd have a supporter here Alix ;)