Calls for high taxes on second homes in Devon and Cornwall
Former poet laureate and countryside campaigner Sir Andrew Motion has launched an all-out attack on second home owners and called for a tax hike on "townies in the countryside".
The president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) blamed those with a second home for ''gutting" rural communities and helping to create a housing shortage which has left many Westcountry families unable to step onto the property ladder.
He has re-ignited the row over holiday homes as David Cameron faces pressure from Cornwall Council to change the law regarding second homes and holiday-lets
Councillors in the Duchy, where 28,957 homes stand empty most of the year, many of them second homes, want to make it necessary to have planning permission to own a home which is not a main residence.
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Sir Andrew, who lives in London, did not call for a ban on second home ownership, but said he would "increase taxes on second homes to make it very expensive".
''I think there's a question about whether second homes mean you have inert dormitory communities in the countryside through most of the week, very often lived in by people who scoot down in their cars, see their smart friends, don't join in the life of the community and don't feed into it," he told The Times newspaper.
''They're townies in the countryside, they make sure they're back in London in time to catch the 10 o'clock news on Sunday night – that means rural communities are gutted."
Cornwall has the highest level of second home ownership in the country, and Devon is towards the top of the table for part-time residences.
Some 26,000 properties are registered as second properties in the two counties.
Cornwall Council wrote to the Prime Minister, his deputy Nick Clegg, Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles and all six Cornish MPs last week asking them to support an addition to the planning laws.
Under the proposal second home owners and people who own holiday-lets would need a "change of use" consent in the same way a shop would need permission to become a gallery or take-away restaurant.
Andrew Wallis, independent councillor for Porthleven, is behind the move and was the author of a proposal which won the backing of the full council at a meeting in Truro in February and has support from St Ives Lib Dem MP Andrew George.
Councillor Wallis welcomed the recent intervention by the former Poet Laureate, but said his characterisation of second home owners was a "generalisation".
Mr Wallis said there were plenty of second home owners and holiday home owners who did contribute to the local economy, adding that a "balance needed to be struck".
"I am not sure it is fair to tax someone more when what we actually want to do is tax protect the community" he said.
"If we overtax those people who do contribute and use shops and restaurants they may well stop doing so." Second homes were for many years easily identified by councils as discounts of between 50% and 90% were allowed on homes designated as a second residence.
However, this discount has now been scrapped in Cornwall and parts of Devon, making it difficult to keep accurate figures.
Mr Wallis says the council's proposed change to planning laws has received the blessing of planning officials as workable within the law but has not been fleshed out.
However, he believes that communities suffer when more than 20% of residences are second homes and thinks this figure could be used by planning committees to limit the number.
And if the measure ever came into effect, it could be applied retrospectively. "It is for the Government to agree in principle to introduce some form of control into the market," he added.
"Councils could then introduce policies to stop communities being destroyed."