Salcombe to stop people buying second homes

Remember: if you rent your second home out as a “furnished holiday let” for part of the year (it should be “available” for 140 days but needs to be let for only 70), you no longer have to pay council tax, but can register instead as a business ratepayer. Then you apply for 100% small business rates relief, cancelling the entire bill. So while every other kind of housing is taxed, second homes, if you play it right, are tax-free. Owl believes that these “reliefs” need to be cancelled nationally as a starter. It would, at least, ensure that second home owners paid their wack and might damp down the demand. Call it “levelling up” if you like. Unfortunately, many of the other schemes end up with “unintended consequences”.

Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

A Devon council is hoping to introduce measures which would stop people from outside the area buying new properties as second homes. 

South Hams District Council unanimously agreed an amendment to the neighbourhood plan for the picturesque town of Salcombe which would ensure that all newly built homes could only be used as a primary residence. 

Average house prices in Salcombe exceed £750,000 with many selling for over £1 million.  However salaries in the area are lower than the national average, making it increasingly difficult for young people to get onto the property ladder.

The amendment presented to the council would mean that a so-called Section 106 agreement would be applied to all newly built dwellings. 

Many new-build properties have already been subject to a planning condition which stipulates that a house must be used as a primary residence but council leader Judy Pearce (Conservative, Salcombe and Thurlestone) said more robust measures are needed. 

“We accept that a planning condition may usually be suitable to secure principal residency,” she said. 

“But this does not allow for the exceptional circumstances encountered in Salcombe and the surrounding area where there’s a very high percentage of second homes. And many houses changing hands frequently between people who are prepared to pay – and do – almost anything to acquire them.”

Cllr Pearce explained that, over a number of years ordinary planning conditions tend to get lost or are overlooked when a house is resold; allowing them to quickly become second homes.

A Section 106 agreement, however, is registered against the property title and would therefore be easily seen by any potential buyer in the future. 

The amendment to the Salcombe Neighbourhood Plan says: “New open market housing, excluding replacement dwellings, will only be supported where there is a Section 106 agreement to ensure its occupancy as a principal residence. This policy is as a result of impact upon the local housing market of second or holiday homes. This occupancy restriction will therefore require the imposition of a legal agreement. New unrestricted market homes will not be supported at any time.” 

Before the amendment was agreed by all councillors Cllr Pearce added that a precedent had already been set in the neighbourhood plan for the village of Thurlestone, near Kingsbridge, which only allows a Section 106 agreement for any new properties attracting a principal residency requirement.  

Although this has now been approved by SHDC the amendment still has to be approved by an independent examiner.

Britain faces ‘decades of financial risk’ as £370bn pandemic bill mounts

Taxpayers will be left facing “significant financial risk for decades to come” because of the levels of emergency government spending on the pandemic, totalling more than £370bn, a powerful committee of MPs says today.

(There was a time when Conservatives claimed to looked after taxpayers’ money! Owl)

Toby Helm 

In two separate reports, the all-party public accounts committee (PAC) paints a daunting picture of the lasting financial strain caused by the first 16 months of combating Covid-19, and says the government must not wait until after the official inquiry to learn the lessons of what went wrong.

The MPs say that by this March the lifetime cost of the government’s rescue measures had reached £372bn, government-backed loans had soared, and taxpayers had been left “on the hook” for an estimated £26bn of credit and fraud losses from the bounce-back loan scheme for small- and medium-sized enterprises alone.

While Boris Johnson, has promised a public inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 it will not begin until next spring and will take years to complete, leaving the prime minister open to accusations that he wants to avoid the truth coming out before the next general election.

The PAC says, however, that the national interest demands understanding and recognition of the many shortcomings far sooner. The MPs say it is “clear that the government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons”.

They expect ministers to “set out a fully costed plan for recovering from the pandemic” in the autumn spending review, alongside a comprehensive framework for managing the risks to public finances resulting from the Covid-19 response.

The committee also highlights worries about the government’s readiness to fight Covid-19 and other diseases in the future, saying it “remains concerned that, despite spending over £10bn on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose”.

Listing a catalogue of problems, the MPs found that up to this May 32 billion items of PPE were ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). But of these only 11 billion have so far been distributed, while 12.6 billion are stored in the UK as central stock, and 8.4 billion on order from other parts of the world have still not arrived in the UK.

The stockpile is costing the DHSC about £6.7m a week to store, the PAC says, with waste being “unacceptably high”. As of May, 10,000 shipping containers of PPE still had to be unpacked, having been ordered in 2020, and 2.1 billion items had been found unsuitable for use in medical settings.

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “With eye-watering sums spent on Covid measures so far, the government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed going forward, and over what period of time.

“The ongoing risk to the taxpayer will run for 20 years on things like arts and culture recovery loans, let alone the other new risks that departments across government must quickly learn to manage. As well as monitoring procurement and its effectiveness through the next few years, the PAC will be watching this spending and risk for decades to come. If coronavirus is with us for a long time, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a big headache.”

While examining the efficiency of the government response, the PAC highlights serious staffing problems inside the NHS, which have been brought into focus by the pandemic. The service was already struggling with 40,000 nursing and 9,000 medical staff vacancies before the first lockdown in March last year. By September, six months in, more than a third of remaining nurses were considering leaving.

The report warns that with the health and social care workforces “under constant pressure”, patient waiting times were continuing to increase and waiting lists for non-urgent treatment were growing significantly, storing up huge challenges for the future.

Widescale sewage discharge alerts along coast

As the holiday season kicks off in earnest, there are widescale sewage alerts are in operation for East Devon beaches see and the alert system at Budleigh Salterton seems to be out of action.

E.g: Sidmouth Town

“Pollution Alert: Storm sewage has been discharged from a sewer overflow in this location within the past 48 hours.
Rock pools to the west, overhanging cliffs to the east, Sidmouth Town beach compromises 900m of legally protected pebbles broken up by rock groynes and backed by a promenade and the town. Two sewer overflows are located at Sidmouth, one discharges through a long sea outfall some 600m out to sea while the other discharges into the River Sid, just under 400m to the east.”

In 2020 there were 1,919 pollution incidents, a decrease from 2,204 in 2019, but the second highest total since 2015. See this report.

“Southern Water and South West Water both performed significantly below target for pollution … Southern Water for the second year in a row and South West Water for the 10th year in a row,” the Environment Agency said. “Both companies’ performances have been consistently unacceptable.”

The impact of pollution from water companies can be seen in the poor quality of water in English rivers. Last year every river failed pollution tests. Pollution from raw sewage discharges by water companies directly into rivers, chemical discharges from industry and agricultural runoff are significant sources of pollution, according to the data.

Emma Howard Boyd, the chair of the Environment Agency, said on Tuesday: “The bottom line is, England’s rivers are too polluted.”

Nearly a third (32%) of rivers were failing to meet tests for good ecological status because of discharges from sewage treatment works. About 7% of rivers are polluted because of raw effluent flowing from storm overflows, the EA said.

(Southern Water has just been fined a record £90m for dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into the sea).

Exeter and Torbay team up in bid to become ‘City of Culture’

Exeter has joined forces with Torbay in a bid to become an internationally-recognised ‘City of Culture’. 

The two UNESCO-designated areas have teamed up in their ambition to provide ‘significant financial, social, and cultural benefits to the region’.  

 If the bid is shortlisted into the final six, Exeter and Torbay will receive £40,000 to develop a programme to secure the status.

If successful, the next stage would see the cultural community fully consulted to develop the proposal.

Driving forces say that, even if unsuccessful, the joint bid will lead to future opportunities ‘to work together to capitalise on opportunities and ideas’ included in the City of Culture proposal.

The bid sees Torbay Council joining forces with Exeter City Council to become a world-renowned City of Culture in four years. 

The designation is given to a city in the UK for a period of one year.

The aim of the initiative, which is administered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, is to build on the success of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture 2008, which had significant social and economic benefits for the area.

The inaugural holder of the award was Derry in 2013. In 2017, Kingston upon Hull took over the title before Coventry hosted in 2021.

Torbay and Exeter’s bid links the City to the Sea and is inspired by the connections between Torquay, Paignton and Brixham to Devon’s capital.   

The bid will look to showcase closely-connected coastal and city destinations; creating a ‘cultural corridor’ between the places.

It will also provide the opportunity to for other towns between Exeter and Torbay to play a major role in a focused programme of events. 

Councillor Amal Ghusain, Exeter City Council’s lead for culture and communities, said: “Torbay and Exeter naturally complement and enhance each other, with firm roots in the natural environment, art, literature and learning, with shared aspirations about NetZero carbon targets and with recognised opportunities to learn from each other.”

In its submission, the bid says: “Both Torbay and Exeter provide a brilliant alternative to a one centre cultural prize, the partnership is determined to innovate and create, and present its cultural credentials set against a backdrop of rivers, moors, and market towns, which lend themselves to be front and centre of a cultural and creative programme.

“Our people are passionate about their green and pleasant land, they are fiercely proud of their surroundings, yet celebrate the opportunity to share and develop their cultural offer and their creative skills.

“Independent artists, music makers, crafters, designer makers, theatres, and creative industries find a home and a rhythm on the foundations of a Roman City, in a natural harbour, via UNESCO designations and within the finest natural environment.” 

The bids that are successfully shortlisted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be notified in September.