The next issue of the Countryman will not come out for a week or two, but I thought I should post my latest column (or a slightly longer version of it) now because I have spent much of this week responding to CPRE members and supporters about CPRE President Sir Andrew Motion’s comments on second homes. CPRE has recently drawn up a policy guidance note on housing, conceived by volunteers from branches across England. Second homes are dealt with in paragraph 8.5. Anyway, here is the piece that will appear in May’s Countryman.
I recently spent a wonderful week in Powys, a couple of hundred yards over the border from Shropshire. The landscape was stunning, and it is tragic to think that these hills may be industrialised by turbines and pylons in just a few years’ time.
I returned from my week of happy isolation from the news to discover that CPRE’s President, Sir Andrew Motion, had caused a stir with comments about second home owners: “Tax ‘townies’ out of second homes to save the countryside”, as the front page of the Times had it. Second homes, he was reported to have said, could result in “inert dormitory communities in the countryside throughout most of the week, very often lived in by people who scoot down in their cars, see their smart friends, don’t join in the life of the community and don’t feed into it. They’re townies in the countryside…”
It’s powerfully put and we have received a number of letters of agreement, particularly from villages in tourist hot spots that have been almost destroyed as communities by high levels of second home ownership.
But I have also had thoughtful and hurt responses from CPRE supporters who say that their second homes have helped keep them in touch with the countryside, given their children a love of the countryside, stopped them flying abroad for holidays, and so on. Several people have pointed out that they or their extended families use their second homes for much of the year; that they have restored dilapidated properties; that they give work to local tradespeople, shops and pubs; and that they contribute to the community. People have told me that they have a second home because they would like to live in the countryside but can’t, or can’t yet – they intend to move out of the city as soon as their work allows.
Answering the many letters we have received and ringing as many people as I can has been a time-consuming but interesting experience.
One role of a CPRE President is to provoke debate, and I have no desire to muzzle Andrew Motion, even if I could. The issue of second homes is well worth debating. But Andrew spent most of his interview with the Times explaining very effectively why the Government’s approach to planning and development is having such a disastrous impact on the places we love, and why it is unnecessary. That is a much bigger, more urgent issue.
For the record, CPRE’s position is that second homes can help the rural economy, but that local authorities should be able to control their numbers. Even more importantly, communities need to find appropriate sites for genuinely affordable housing for people working locally or with strong local roots. This will help ensure that even places with a large number of second homes do not die in the week or during the holiday season.