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