Should councils be able to cap the number of second and holiday homes in their area?

by Stephen Tall on November 2, 2011

Earlier this week, the Lib Dems’ Communities and Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell wrote here on LibDemVoice about the Coalition’s measures to increase councils’ powers to cut tax relief to those with second homes:

… our plans [are] to allow local authorities to charge an Empty Homes Premium – up to an extra 50% of council tax – on any property that has been vacant for two years or more. Crucially, we are retaining the exemptions for properties empty as a result of the death of an owner, or if the owner has moved into hospital or to give or receive personal care (Exemptions E,F, I and J, since you asked). This will ensure that the tax burden does not fall unfairly on the shoulders of those who are least able to pay. But the moves will give councils an extra weapon in their arsenal to tackle empty homes, and will act as a spur to their owners to bring them back into use.

Under the Coalition’s proposals, councils would be able to keep what they save by cutting the current council tax discount, and could put that money either into spending on services or keeping tax bills down.

The issue of second and holiday homes is especially hot in the south-west, where many local people are priced out of the property market as wealthy city-dwellers buy-up coastal and rural retreats. Stephen Gilbert, Lib Dem MP for St Austell and Newquay, points out that in parts of Cornwall there are parishes where 80% of properties are second homes, and has urged the Coalition to go further than simply allowing councils to end tax relief — by giving councils the power to impose a cap on the number of second and holiday homes.

Here’s what Stephen asked Communities and Local Government Secretary of State Eric Pickles in the House of Commons on Monday:

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Second home and holiday home ownership in some Cornish parishes is as much as 80% of the overall housing stock. As part of the Government’s localism agenda, will my right hon. Friend consider giving local authorities the power to limit the number of second and holiday homes in an area?

Mr Pickles: I think that would be rather difficult and open to abuse. This is an important step for my hon. Friend’s constituents and it should enable council tax bills to be cut by an average of about £20.

So it looks like the Coalition isn’t going to go down the route of a cap — do Voice readers think this is something the Lib Dems should be pressing for?