Levelling-up Agenda — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:18 pm on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:18 pm, 15th June 2021

It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate Bob Seely on leading this important debate.

Levelling up is a concept that I strongly support. For it to work, we have to identify disadvantage and take action to tackle it. There is a lot that I could ask the Minister to consider today, but he will be delighted to hear that what I am asking for will not cost very much money and could be absolutely transformational in much of rural Britain.

Over the last 15 months of the covid crisis, a housing crisis in areas such as mine in the lakes and dales of Cumbria has turned from crisis to catastrophe. Members who have been monitoring the housing market will have noticed things similar to what has happened in my communities. We have seen an increase in the number of holiday lets in my constituency of 32%. From talking to dozens of estate agents across the county, I know that the proportion of houses purchased during this period that are going into the second-home market is anything from 40% to 80%. At the beginning of the crisis South Lakeland had an average household income of £26,000 and an average house price of £250,000, which shows a serious problem from the start. That problem has been massively exacerbated during this time.

What does that mean for our communities? Hospitality and tourism are critical to our economy and I am proud to stand behind them, but people involved in that industry know that vibrant communities are vital to the survival and strength of the lakes, the dales and the rest of Cumbria. The increasing proportion of homes in the second-home or holiday-let market means no permanent population. No permanent population means no kids at the local school, so the school closes. It means the loss of the post office, the pub and bus services. We end up with beautiful places that are empty. We must surely recognise that as utterly unacceptable.

I have provided some top-line statistics, but on an anecdotal level, people who pay £600 a month for a flat in a lakeland village are being kicked out so that the landlord can charge £1,000 a week for a holiday let. That is happening, and many people are calling it the lakeland clearances. Extreme circumstances require drastic responses if we are to level up here and not leave rural Britain behind.

I am pleased that the Government are closing the loophole that allows people to pretend that second homes are holiday lets, when they are not, and so avoid paying tax. That is a good thing. The Government, however, must accept some responsibility for the stamp duty holiday fuelling this crisis to a large degree, leading to a huge spike in purchases.

The really important thing for the Government to do is to change planning law. They need to ensure that holiday lets and second homes are distinct categories of planning use, so that local authorities can say that there are enough homes of that sort in the community and, therefore, protect it.