CPRE and second homes: the official position

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.

9 Responses to “CPRE and second homes: the official position”


  1. 1 Trudi April 14, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Hmmm….as a second home owner with house in Powys and a member of CPRE We contribute to local community and economy there, as well as at home. Andrew Motion should be careful what he wishes for, otherwise I and many others may rescind our membership of CPRE, which would be a shame.

  2. 2 Michael April 16, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    My village is sustained by people who have “more than one house” who do not deserve to be castigated as a class by CPRE. What’s more the idea floated above that Local Authorities should have some kind of quota in for people who already have a house wishing to buy another is clearly absurd. My LocalCouncil should not be able to decide who I can sell my house to, in a free market, is clearly absurd. Shaun should stop trying to “clarify” what Sir Andrew meant and instead dissociate CPRE from his ill-advised statements.

  3. 3 Alexander April 17, 2013 at 8:18 am

    I’m extremely glad that there has been a call for lessened second home ownership. I think that many of the problems which we currently have in the housing market are as a direct result of people using housing as an investment rather than a home. By penalising second home owners we could ease up supply pressures for communities which are currently unable to provide housing for local families. Some people in the UK should be a little less selfish and a little more giving.

  4. 4 Patricia April 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I agree with Alexander.

  5. 5 An April 19, 2013 at 8:32 am

    I am in agreement with Alexander. Local housing being bought by people outside that community has tended to inflate the local housing prices and consequently priced locals out of their own market, thus creating this need for affordable housing…and without local authorities managing the situation would only mean that the affordable property in the long-term may increasingly be sold as a second home owners and so the problem continues). Before too long rural communities have sprawled in to the countryside that attracted people there in the first place.

    This has always been a senstive area for CPRE however the long term answer to the housing crisis needs to be addressing the issues head-on, looking at the causes not just the solutions…may be then we may find that there is more housing per houshold than we thought and there is not such an urgent need for building new homes (other than kick-starting the economy argument)…that requires a change of attittude across the country to think of the wider issues before their own wants and wishes so not a quick-win

  6. 6 Dr James Thompson April 22, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I am not a CPRE member, though I am a supporter of what I think CPRE stands for, and thus a potential recruit. I work in London, but since 1975 have had a second home in the country, first in Dorset, now in Wiltshire. I have paid full Council tax throughout, which I felt was the right thing to do. I became a life member of the Woodland Trust, and supported other country groups. I take part in local community life.

    Andrew Motion’s attack on second home owners surprised me. It seemed bad history, bad economics and bad politics.

    Historically, rural de-population began in the 1870’s, when there were three very wet summers in a row. There would have been even more hardship if it had not been that the American railroads reached the prairies. We have been eating New World food ever since. The population started to move to the towns. The trend accelerated in the 1920’s. There is little work on the land now.

    From an economic point of view the main issue in the countryside is lack of work. The best jobs are in cities. Young people leave the country, if they can. Investment in country life comes largely from citizens with urban jobs. The trend towards urbanization is accelerating world-wide. As a reader of the Economist Andrew Motion should know all this stuff. Weekenders are the new squires, and then finally, at retirement, often become the new permanent residents. Country dwellers often wanted shot of the very cottages that urban dwellers most wanted to buy. It is far more sensible to live in a modern bungalow than an old cottage if you seek any comfort. The latter are very costly to maintain, particularly if listed, and thatched. Have a look at all the buildings put up for farm workers: not an inglenook in sight, thank God, but usually not much of a contribution to architectural joy either.

    From a political view, Andrew Motion has been very damaging. Pressure groups should stick to the guiding principles of their objectives. The moment they adopt a Party Political agenda they alienate at least half of the potential recruits. Given the Militant Tendency stance he adopted he has probably alienated more than half, given that those who want the countryside preserved are often the urban refugees on whose patronage a good portion of country life now depends.

    Finally, tell him that journalists prefer the “off the record” and “off the cuff” remarks, because they reveal what people really think.

    Yours

    James Thompson

  7. 7 geoff lambert April 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

    i have a second home and a third. i bring real wealth to the local area as my cottages are let most of the year but i also stop locals from having a home as i price them out of the market. I’m part of the problem and the solution. If authorities control the number of second homes and i am squeezed out i would simply find something else to invest in, or buy property overseas.

  8. 8 David Gerry April 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Well done Geoff Lambert, honesty at last, it is all about investments, take away the profits and the value of both second homes and permanently occupied homes will drop and locals will be able to afford to buy homes and housing problems solved; well it would help. We know that in our little town affordable housing will simply become second homes in the end and so will perpetuate the problem.David Gerry

  9. 9 geoff lambert April 27, 2014 at 8:15 am

    house builders announced some of their results this week. New homes sold up 13%. Average price of new homes sold up 32%. A new house price boom is on its way. Owning a home is not the norm, it is simply reserved for those with capital and I shall buy another home this year as this is a better return than most other investments. Lets stop thinking that in a free market economy with limited supply everyone will have the option to own a home, its not a reality. Perhaps we should also consider scrapping affordable housing, let the market decide where you can afford to live!! Motion is right to raise this issue, poor supply prospects and capital looking for a safer place to invest means housing is a key target but stopping second home ownership does not solve the problem, it simply adds to the distortion.

    Geoff lambert


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