Sunday, March 23, 2008

Second Homes in Wales.

Another report in today's Wales on Sunday caught my eye. Written by Matt Withers. Nick Bennett, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru is claiming that new laws planned to control second homes in England will drive second home buyers into Wales. First time I sat down with a coffee to think about this issue (my favoured form of contemplation) was a few weeks ago, after receiving a letter from Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price. I understood the points he made about Gains Tax changes and possible planning law changes in England, but I just did not accept the scenario that Adam was postulating.

The basis for the concern is that Gordon Brown is supposed to have talked about creating a separate 'use class' in the planning system for second homes in England. To buy a second home in England would require getting planning permission for change of use, a costly and lengthy process. So they would come to Wales instead. If we set aside the question of interfering in the property market, it seems ever so simple when put in these terms - but its not simple at all. I've spent quite a lot of time discussing this issue in the past, principally in a comprehensive National Assembly review of the future of the Welsh Language some 6 years ago. I think all the other AMs on the Committee disagreed with me, but I concuded that it simply wouldn't be workable. Not only would it be a 'cheat's charter', but it would be impossible to enforce the % limits on second homes in designated communities that would have to be introduced, if the proposal were to have any effect.

Two other points that I want to make. If second homes become a real problem, and I accept that it might in some locations, it would be a lot easier to control numbers through Council Tax multiples. And secondly, if the proposed change on planning law were to be successfully introduced in England, it would so undermine my opinion that its unworkable, that I would expect teh National Assembly Government to quickly introduce the change into Wales. Even a statement that it intended to follow suit would immediately kill off the threat that Nick Bennett and Adam Price have raised.

Peter Black has posted on this issue as well


Anonymous said...

tell us more about the committee. what was it all about and why did you disagree with all the other memberrs.

Anonymous said...

Good post Glyn. I think Delyth probably agreed with your reservations at the time, but prefered to keep her powder dry! I suspect you are right about the unworkability, but it is high time that this was demonstrated conclusively in the report following an authoratative and through investigation. Even if the option were to be picked up it would surely require primary legislation to change the Planning Act - presumanbly allowing the WAG plenty of time to get the legisloation translated and suddenly unveiled as a 'made in Wales' LCO request. You may be right about Council Tax being increased on second homes as a deterrent, but the WAG as you know regards Council Tax reform as a "3rd rail" issue. Plaid are committed to local income tax, while Labour (sensibly) see merits in a property tax based system. Ultimately though we need to look at ways to drastically increase the supply of cheap and cheerful housing in beautiful rural Wales (which probably requires abolishing some planning restictions, not making new ones) and we also need to look at why incomes in mid & west Wales are so low that locals cannot compete with the monied London types.

The CGT changes will of course apply across the board for better or for worse.

Glyn Davies said...

anons - The Committee was looking at the future of the Welsh Language under the chairmanship of Rhodri Glyn Thomas. We agreed the report, except that I referred to my disagrement on the 'Second Homes' recommendation both in the Committee and when the Report was presented to the Assembly. Didn't vote against it, because this issue was not central to the review.

Not sure I agree with you about Deleth Evans opinion. I used to agree with her about most things, but it Delyth and I who were mostly involved in the disagreement on this issue.
My understanding was that variation in 'use classes' was a devolved issue - but I could be wrong here. I suspect I'm right because the change that Gordon Brown is talking about would apply only to England.

I also agree with the need to tackle the issue on the supply side, and always have argued for a more permissive planning system. This is the reason why so many were surprised to see me offered, and taking on the Presidency of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. The CPRW is discussing a new approach to 'affordable housing' at the moment - and the latest draft policy position is one that I can live with.