Second homes need curbs

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Cathy Koo, of Salcombe, writes:

Two articles, Gazette, December 30, prompted me to write, and both stories are linked.

South Hams councillors are offering to back any town or parish council that wants to follow the St Ives example and crack down on second home ownership. This is a golden opportunity for everyone who is concerned about second home ownership to turn the tide here in the South Hams too, but it does require action.

If 50 per cent of local people in each town and parish vote in support of a ban in their ­neighbourhood plans, then the ­district council has no choice but to adopt it. That is the law. Sadly, this is not happening.

Take Salcombe, a town that has suffered more under ­second home ownership than most. The response to its ­neighbourhood plan was disappointingly low, proving – if proof were needed – that in Salcombe there is now no neighbourhood left to plan for.

This is not an attempt to bash second home owners. After all, in Salcombe they make

up nearly 39 per cent of the ­housing stock and as such have every right to be heard. But that is exactly the point – they are not here to be heard, or to ­participate in community life.

A point illustrated so poignantly in the second article in last week’s Gazette: ‘Salcombe Town Council in jeopardy’. The town is out of balance and the council is in danger of becoming inquorate. Where are the ‘partial ­residents’ (surely a contradiction in terms), as Salcombe Town Council calls them, when they are needed?

Is it because they are absent much of the year, or is it because they also live elsewhere that they cannot ­contribute to the fabric of the local community in the same way as someone who is a ­permanent resident does?

Salcombe Town Council is struggling to fill vacancies – that has serious implications for local democracy, especially when you consider the weight that a 50 per cent vote would have on an issue as important as second home ownership.

If some of the partial ­residents were to bring their skills, knowledge, and more importantly money, to the metaphorical council chamber table, then there might be some real hope for Salcombe.

Some of the blame for Salcombe’s lacklustre neighbourhood plan results lies ­closer to home. The truth is that many resident locals are complacent and leave it to others to stand up for their town. There are those, too, who are afraid to bite the hand that feeds them – they depend on the crumbs from the rich man’s table to ­survive. So they keep quiet or whinge resentfully behind the scenes as they eke out a living working from busy period to busy period, catering to the various needs and whims of their rich employers, the partially resident second home owners who cash in on the rich pickings Salcombe provides and then take them home with them.

Of course, many permanent residents are also second home owners themselves. Many locals have long since cashed in and secured a lucrative second income from holiday letting, but the point is that all second homes generate profits, and some of those profits should go back into the community to counterbalance the damage done by them in the first place. That should be legislated for. Now is the time to put that legislation in place.

Julian Brazil makes a good case – doubling council tax and introducing business rates would certainly be a start to redressing the balance.

Owning a second home is a privilege, especially when so many are homeless or forced out of the rental market by ­holiday lets. Salcombe mayor Mike Fice’s suggestion that it is a flawed plan ‘because developers won’t build affordable homes’ is odd and makes one question just whose side he is on? Developers haven’t built affordable homes in Salcombe for years. At best they operate a box-ticking exercise and build a few ‘low-cost’ – don’t make me laugh! – homes to get past the planners.

Most of the development in Salcombe is carried out privately for rich people and it is only the few who feed off them who ­benefit; the rest of us suffer the noise, inconvenience and ­disruption while they make money and change the very soul of the place.

It is telling that it was a firm of architects that tried to stop the St Ives ban. As one of the few industries/professions to actually benefit from the ­concreting over of the countryside, of course they don’t want it to stop. Most of the people I speak to do want it to stop. Well, this is their chance.

Enough is enough.

Salcombe has become a fleshpot, a ‘brand’ to be marketed, a town of rich ‘partial residents’ to be serviced. The once ­balanced community has now tipped over into a two-tier ­reality of the rich and the rest. Much of the money made in and by the town does not stay in the town – the shops are part of larger chains, the houses owned by people who run them as businesses and live and bank elsewhere, and the knock-on effects are visible to all.

The argument that the ­second home owners bring cash into the area is not justified when the cost to the community and environment is so high.

It is time there was a real, honest dialogue between both the partial residents and the permanent about the true cost of second home ownership. Both sides need to get involved and both sides need to be heard. It always seems to revert to a them-and-us conversation, which isn’t very helpful.

This is an opportunity for everyone to get involved – we ignore it at our peril. It is easier than ever to write to your local councillor – go to www.write tothem.com.

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