Memorandum by the South West Conference
of Local Council Associations (EMP 46)
1. The Conference is the regional body for
South West England for the County Associations of Parish, Town
and City Councils. The "local government nearest the electorate".
Our area comprises the seven "counties" of the standard
region and our grass-root membership is some 1,500 Local Councils.
These range from Weston-super-Mare Town Council (which has an
electorate in excess of that for some District Councils) and Truro
City Council and other Best Value parishes, which have budgets
close to £1million per annum each, to the smaller rural parishes
where the electorate numbers below 300.
2. The County Associations of Local Councils
throughout the region have each concluded at their own policy
fora (whether a formal AGM or a County Committee Meeting) that
the number of empty homes and the lack of affordable housing within
the region is a serious issue that must be addressed as a matter
of urgency. The issue seems to centre on three of issues.
(a) The presence of second homes (in addition
to holiday let properties which are treated as business property);
(b) The lack of financial incentives to
repair and bring back into use the flats so often found over retail
and other market town High Street properties; and,
(c) The lack of a policy that delivers sustainable
affordable housing in rural settlements.
3. Taking each of these in turn you will
notice that our solutions are essentially financial.
4. We are convinced that the delivery of
government policy is best achieved by ensuring the full use of
economic and market forces wherever possible. It may not have
missed your notice that the Councils in membership of our County
Associations are not in receipt of any form of direct government
grant-aid. All our costs are borne directly by the local tax-payer
or charge for services payer, this is a luxury of directly and
locally elected, accountable, local authorities. Our members provide
local services for residents and for visitors alike and it is
generally felt that the present system does not provide a fair
distribution of local tax-payers contributions to the providers
of local amenities. Increasingly community and leisure facilities
are provided by City, Town & Parish Councils rather than the
more distant District Council. This is becoming more noticeable
in seaside resorts.
5. In many parts of the region the tourist
economy is a substantial driver for employment and prosperity.
Serviced properties be they in hotels, bed-and-breakfast houses,
or self-catering properties provide a significant input to the
local economy. The presence in some settlements of a large number
of second home properties where the property is used for only
a part of the year; and, more often than not the majority of items
required are brought down from the supermarket shopping near the
first home provides little, if anything, for the local economy.
Yet these property owners are able to drive the property prices
up based on their very high incomes in relation to the local economy.
These properties still require the full services of the local
and other authorities in terms of roads access, fire cover, a
weekly visit from the dustcart whether the house is in use or
not etc. These services are all provided at a cost to the local
taxpayers. This is a serious issue for all to see in places such
as Helford River or Purbeck but is now reported as a significant
and growing problem from counties such as Wiltshire and Somerset.
The Associations are strongly in support of the proposals contained
within the Rural White Paper to give an option to billing authorities
to charge the full (two resident) Council Tax on second homes,
indeed we would prefer to see a mandatory imposition in place
of the option. We hope that the forthcoming Local Government White
Paper will include this as a matter of Policy for inclusion in
the Bill that is likely to follow.
6. The reduction in use of the "over
the shop" accommodation is a serious issue for those for
whom it was historically the first step one the road to independence.
For others it provided long term housing. There needs to be an
incentive through the tax system to encourage the re-conversion
of such property into residential units. The Income Tax system
includes some incentives for the letting of property, perhaps
there is scope within a VAT reduced rate to provide some further
incentive. The use of a reduced rate to favour re-construction
would alleviate the present penal levy of 17.5 per cent on the
cost of the work. This rate must be viewed in comparison with
the zero rate applicable to new, usually, green-field, construction.
The Associations again favour the use of existing mechanisms that
directly affect the economics of the situation rather than other
forms of encouragement which are often not delivered other than
in the form of "hot air".
7. The Government and other political parties
have realised the importance to the market town and smaller settlements
of having a balanced community. All ages and skills need to be
represented in a community to make it stick together. The need
for affordable housing measured against the wage-rates of the
local economy is still one of the most important policy issues
in the south west region. Whenever Planning issues are debated
there is a presumption in favour of the affordable local housing
provision and a clear expression of horror at the look-alike estates
targeted at the incomer. There is a role for the new resident
but not in such numbers and at such house values that the local
people feel forced out of their own community. Again we favour
use of economic instruments to achieve the end result. There is
a feeling in the region that the enforcement of the planning and
development control processes is far too lax. The key question
is whether local people should make decisions that affect their
locality or whether such matters are really for a distant Planning
Inspector who does not have to live with the social, economic
and environmental consequences.
Peter W Lacey
South West Conference of Local Council Associations.