The Queen's Speech last week introduced the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. Wider changes through a dedicated Planning Bill had been expected, but plans, including several concerning and damaging proposals that we and others challenged during earlier consultations, have been scrapped.

Much of the detail will come later in the form of regulations and changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, on which there will be public consultation. However, some specific details of the Bill were particularly interesting. This included provision for council tax charges to be increased by up to 100% on dwellings occupied only periodically, such as second (or third, or fourth) homes.

100% of council tax can already be charged on second homes. However, allowing an increase of up to 100% will enable councils to charge double the rate of council tax on second homes. This is already legislated for and in use in Wales (although they are increasing this to 300% from April 2023 along with introducing other measures) and could deter some second home ownership while also providing an additional revenue stream that councils can use to support communities.

This isn’t about banning second homes or pitting ourselves against second home-owners. We recognise that these, along with holiday lets, have a role to play in the economy and communities of the Lake District. Indeed, some of the prominent cultural figures of the Lake District themselves owned second homes here and some of the properties that are now prime examples of the cultural characteristics for which the National Park is designated a World Heritage Site were built as holiday homes. However, it has long been recognised that when high proportions of the dwellings in a community have been lost to these other uses, there are negative implications, from school closures to putting pressure on authorities to develop greenfield sites for additional housing that would not necessarily be needed if local people could still access (physically and financially) a home amongst the existing stock.

We therefore welcome this move; it is a positive step forward, and one that we and many others asked for, but it isn’t enough. This is a complex issue and it will take more than additional charges to put our communities on the right footing. A suite of tools is required.

The Countryside Charity CPRE shares our concerns – their research earlier this year highlighted that South Lakeland saw a 1,231% increase in short term letting listings between 2016 and 2020, as do local MPs such as Tim Farron. The Lake District National Park Partnership is delivering on its Partnership Plan action to lobby the Government for changes to address these issues and recently wrote to Cumbria County Council seeking their support. The Campaign for National Parks and parish councils are also behind us. The Campaign for National Parks submitted a response to proposals for further strengthening of measures in Wales recently while Allithwaite and Cartmel Parish Council are seeking to introduce a primary residence policy in their Neighbourhood Plan.

In addition to extra council tax charges, we would like to see:

  • a mechanism to control the conversion of first to second (or third, fourth etc) homes in the Lake District through the planning system, namely changes to the Use Classes Order to differentiate between categories of dwelling and a requirement for planning permission to be sought to move between the categories (this will more than likely need to be accompanied by policy, guidance and relevant monitoring to provide criteria and evidence with which to inform a refusal or approval of such permission)
  • the closing of business-rate relief loop-holes for holiday lets;
  • a compulsory licensing scheme for holiday lets
  • ring-fencing of additional council tax monies for projects that support communities, such as to bring other empty homes back into use

We at Friends of the Lake District need to continue lobbying and campaigning for these further changes - including through the Lake District National Park Partnership, working with other like-minded organisations and parties such as CPRE and local MPs and through our own responses to relevant consultations on changes to national and national planning policy and guidance and on relevant legislation.

These measures could then work alongside others, such as local occupancy clauses on new homes and projects to bring other types of empty home back into use to help ensure that a significant percentage of dwellings remain in use for their intended purpose, as homes, helping local people and communities to thrive, while protecting our landscapes and wider environment from unnecessary development.