Housing and Planning — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:55 pm on 3rd March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (North of England) (Northern Powerhouse), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Food and Rural Affairs) 2:55 pm, 3rd March 2020

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harborough, who made an excellent speech, and I congratulate him on securing this important debate.

Like everybody else, I feel there is a whole range of issues that we could address when it comes to housing and planning, so I will be specific and talk about planning and regulation relating to those homes that are not typically lived in. In my constituency, roughly a minimum of 7,000 properties are not lived in. They are second homes, boltholes owned by people who can afford more than one home. It is not their principal home. That is not even beginning to count the number of holiday lets, which are an important part of the tourism economy in the lakes and the western dales.

We also have a more recent development with the rise of Airbnb. I want to be very clear that Airbnb, like all technology, is neutral; it is what we do with it that gives it moral value for or against. I can think of many advantages of affordable holidays for people, and I can think of advantages for people who have holiday lets on the platform. It is also a way of making good use of space.

There is a lot that is good about Airbnb, but there are some problems as well. Research conducted for The Guardian just a few weeks ago showed that one in five houses in the Langdales, in Ambleside and in part of Windermere were on Airbnb. Many of those will be in estates that would not typically house second homes or even holiday lets, so it is clear that there is a movement out of the full-time, affordable family market into homes that are being used simply for rental. That is deeply troubling, and I would like the Government to look at it.

I would also like the Government to understand that although in a free society people should be allowed to use their money however they wish, the excess of second homes in communities such as mine can become deeply problematic. When we think that probably 80% to 90% of homes in certain Lake District villages are not lived in all year round, it is no surprise that beautiful places such as Dent and Langdale—wonderful communities at opposite ends of my constituency, one in the lakes, one in the Yorkshire dales—have school rolls of less than 30. Why? Because the majority of the homes that could send children to those schools are owned by people who do not occupy them or add much in the way of economic value to the community.

So what would I like the Government to do? I would like them to tackle this matter, as they have been promising for many months now. I ask the Minister in particular to address this. The Government have had a consultation, which closed in January 2019. They have still to act upon it and say whether or not they are going to close the loophole, as the Welsh Assembly have done, that allows some second home owners to game the system and avoid not only paying business rates, but paying council tax altogether. A conservative estimate in my constituency is that second home owners using that loophole are costing local council tax payers in the south lakes at least £3 million a year.

Will the Minister close that loophole, as the Welsh Assembly have? Will he also look at changing planning law, so that having a second home is actually a separate category of planning use from having a first home, so we can regulate the amount of second home ownership in places such as the lakes and the dales? Will he allow councils to look at raising council tax in certain areas, to create a disincentive and allow a redistribution of income in national parks in particular?

Finally, will the Minister look at the Airbnb market, recognising its value and the contribution it makes, but also recognising that a lack of regulation, health and safety applications, insurance and other things may make it an unfair competitor, added to the fact that Airbnb seems to be taking away houses from the affordable market for local families in the lakes? Those issues are a challenge that a Government ought to be addressing.