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I think that churches play a big role in communities, and not only in that they are often physically present and can be the last thing that survives as a community centre in a village whose permanent population is contracting. The challenge to Christians is to look out for those lonely people in need. A church is more than just a building, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Across South Lakeland, average house prices are 10 times average household incomes, and in some villages it is 20 times. I am determined that local families in Cumbria should be able to live and to make a living in the communities that they grew up in. The new homes that could be built by those additional funds could make a vast difference to thousands of local people. In the last few years, South Lakeland District Council has enabled the building of 1,200 new affordable homes for local families in places like Grasmere, Ambleside, Hawkshead, Sedbergh, Windermere and Coniston. I get letters from residents in those communities who are the polar opposite of nimbys: “In my back yard, please” say so many people throughout our area who want their village to survive and thrive.
Thirdly, although taxation measures will make a difference, the Government should act on planning law. Second homes should be made a separate category of planning use. If I wanted to change my home into a chip shop, my kids would be utterly delighted but I would have to apply for planning permission for change of use. However, if I wanted to sell my home to someone who would use it as a bolthole for four or five weekends a year, I could do so freely, yet in a very real sense the use of that home would have substantially changed.
To turn a first home into a second home should require planning permission from the local council or the national park, and I would expect planners to say a flat no to such applications in one of the many communities already under the greatest threat and pressure from excessive second home ownership. By taking this action, the Government could enable an immediate cap on second home ownership and would, over time, allow second homes to move back into being permanent family homes, rebuilding, reviving and renewing our communities.
One feature of representing an awesome place is that the problems we face can often be disguised—easy to miss at first glance as we are blinded by the glory. The blight of excessive second home ownership is one such example. It is a blight that I want the Government to tackle today. I want you, Dame Cheryl, and the Minister to come on holiday to the lakes and the dales, to enjoy Cumbria and to know that you are welcome. The Minister of course does not need inviting to the dales, but he will get my point.
I do not want any second home owner out there to think that I am having a personal go at them. I am not. However, my job is to fight for our communities so that they can remain awesome. I ask the Minister to do those three things without delay, to help us to keep them so.