Second home ownership debate key to building rural community balance

The government response to the Taylor review rejected the call to limit the growth of second homes through the planning system but debate continues on the issue of reviving rural communities, Rhian Brimble explains.

Second homes can have a significant impact on rural communities. They are likely to stand empty for long periods, which has a detrimental impact on local life and the viability of key services including shops, schools and public transport.

Demand for second homes can often result in local people being priced out of the housing market, causing significant social problems. These impacts are likely to be worse in areas where second homes make up a significant percentage of housing stock, such as coastal locations and areas of high landscape value.

The issue has been raised repeatedly, including by Matthew Taylor's Living Working Countryside review and the work of the Affordable Rural Housing Commission, the Commission for Rural Communities and the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU).

The Taylor review of how land use and planning can better support rural business and deliver affordable housing was presented to the government last July. This sparked much debate. However, it is widely recognised that there is a lack of evidence on the social, economic and environmental consequences of second home ownership.

The NHPAU's Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Research Literature on the Purchase and Use of Second Homes, also published last year, warned that a failure to plan for second homes will affect those "at the margins of homeownership in certain areas because of the impact of further undersupply".

The Taylor review focused on two issues - how to nurture a healthy rural economy and how to ensure an adequate supply of rural housing. Taylor set out the importance of the planning process as an "engine of regeneration" and as a key tool in providing a "positive, lasting legacy of places in which people actually want to live".

In his report, Taylor recommended that the government examine the options for revising secondary planning legislation to limit changes of use of full-time homes into second homes. He advised trialling this in a community that is already feeling the impacts of a high rate of second home ownership.

However, the government rejected his recommendation over concerns that it would be difficult to implement through the system and would interfere with the "legitimate rights of second home owners". Instead, it called for more innovative ways of providing affordable housing.

The RTPI rural planning network is debating the issues through its online thinkpiece on planning for second homes, which aims to gauge views to feed into RTPI policy. The network is asking its members to consider a number of questions.

These include identifying the positive and negative impacts of second homes on rural communities and helping planning authorities to find the right balance between these, bearing in mind that such areas and communities are diverse.

It also asks whether the government's response to the Taylor review tackled the symptoms rather than the underlying causes of the problem. Have we reached a point where the absence of planning control over the growth of second homes is causing significant harm, outweighing the personal right to own a second home? If this is the case, should the planning system intervene to ensure that balanced judgements are made?

The government is calling for fresh approaches to the provision of affordable housing in rural areas. So what current examples of good practice are there? Should Taylor's recommendation on change of use limits be followed? How will new affordable housing sit next to older, more traditional rural properties that are currently used only as second homes?

These are just a few of the issues that provide rural planners with a unique set of challenges in the delivery of sustainable communities. It is important that we work to bring together the different sectoral and professional interests to ensure a co-ordinated approach to development - a course that the network aims to promote.

Rhian Brimble is the RTPI rural planning network manager. To contribute to the network's debate, please visit www.rtpi.org.uk/rural_planning_network or email rural.planning@rtpi.org.uk


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