EDITORIAL COMMENT

 

Andrew Norfolk writes (article Jan 20th) on the Yorkshire Dales National Park intention (for that is all it is at present until approved by Inspectorate and Government) to use planning policy to ban incomers from buying new homes there. It is surprising how much media interest this topic has created. Several planning authorities have been trying to do it since the 1980's, among them the Lake District, Exmoor, and more recently Pembrokeshire.

 

What is rarely reported, since it doesn't make headlines, is the eventual outcome of these attempts. When exposed to scrutiny by governments (of either persuasion), or a fuller more democratic local consultation process, through public enquiry, the weaknesses and anomalies of such policies become clear. To mention some:

 

·This is not just a problem for National Parks, but arises in any remote and scenic part of Britain.

 

·National Park Authorities cannot resolve complex housing problems like this through the planning process alone. Close collaboration with housing authorities, regional economic development and government bodies, the voluntary and private sector, is essential. NPA's may think that solo action on their part will be seen as brave and adventurous and will enhance their status. But the effect of such unilateral interference in the market will almost always be perverse. Supply of sites and finished homes is a crucial part of the equation. Powers wielded by NPA's to regulate ownership, restrict supply or oblige it to be located somewhere else will not on their own help local people buy affordable homes, despite wishful thinking.

 

·NPA's are often persuaded of their power to use policies like this to pursue different, desirable, but incompatible objectives. In one area (Pembrokeshire) the purpose might be to suppress virtually all new home building or to insist on it being done in an adjacent local authority area. In another reducing second home ownership might be a priority.

 

·If restriction of supply of new homes is the real intention, introducing complex planning policies to regulate their occupation is pointless. Control of the purchase of existing homes as first or second homes would be unenforceable under Human Rights legislation.

 

·Attaching a locals only policy to new homes simply drives up the cost of existing homes.

 

·Why should any developer want to build houses to sell at a 30% discount, particularly when there is a proper insistence on high design standards in a National Park.

 

·Rights to buy in the first place (i.e.defining who is local), and subsequent onward sales of houses subject to Section 106 agreements, involve agents, mortgage companies and prospective buyers in huge complexities. In most cases these will leave the few lucky locals allowed permission to buy in the first place wishing they had never used the policy.

 

Defenders of these policies will protest the problem is so acute that something has to be done. Certainly, and there are many enlightened public and private sector bodies and individuals working on solutions ranging from Kate Barker through housing associations, Business in the Community, farming unions, the CLA and the Countryside Agency. Planning authorities need to explore all avenues fully with such partners and with their local communities before embarking on such quixotic ventures.