Local MP repeats his arguments to deal with second homes

No he’s not called Simon or Neil – Owl

Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes and Brixham, today’s Western Morning News:

South Devon is home to some of the most extraordinary views, landscapes and coastlines. 

As a representative of the area, I am only too aware of the privilege I have in speaking up for such a unique part of the country: yet, like the rest of the nation, our businesses, tourism and hospitality industries were put on hold through the onslaught of the pandemic. 

Now, with the vaccine surging through the nation’s veins, we are seeing our economy spring back to life. The previously deserted beaches are packed, while our high streets bustle with resident and tourist alike. Our pubs, bars and restaurants all throng with the clitter-clatter of happy customers who have rightly chosen South Devon as their destination of choice for this year’s holiday.

As a result, our local economy is booming. Visitors are helping it to bounce back at rapid speed. All of this is welcome, but it is important to understand that it comes at a cost.

Such are the demands from the visitor economy that thousands of homes are being moved from long-term rentals to Airbnb lets. Many who live and work in the area are being issued with eviction notices so landlords can capitalise on the boom in holiday rentals. At the time of writing, only 16 properties are available for long-term rent across the district council area of the South Hams, and Torbay tells a similar story.

For years there has been a fine balance between holiday rentals and primary residences. That balance saw schools, hospitals and lifeboat stations (to name a few) catered for by residents who lived locally. It is readily apparent this is often no longer the case, as these and many other local organisations, and businesses, struggle to find the staff they need to operate. Some of our towns and villages, thronged in the summer, are ghostly quiet in the winter.

At both a local and national level, more needs to be done to regain that balance between holiday homes and primary residences. So what can be done?

First, we must introduce the necessary legislation to close the loophole that allows second homes to advertise as holiday rentals, avoid council tax by registering for business rates and subsequently be entitled to small business rate relief. Every holiday home puts pressure on local services and they must pay their share. I have campaigned vociferously for this change in the law, and welcome the Chancellor’s announcement earlier this year that the loophole will be closed, but it cannot come soon enough.

Second, a nationwide survey should be conducted to evaluate the impact of Airbnb-type rentals on local communities. This could include lost tax receipts and the impact on long-term rental markets in both rural and urban communities (this affects London too).

Third, new builds must be built with local affordability targets in mind. This should include Section 106 legal agreements which can be registered against the property title to ensure they are primary residences in perpetuity. This is already under way in Salcombe and looks set to happen elsewhere in the region.

The visitor economy is hugely important to South Devon. I welcome it, but Devon and the South West must have functioning communities that offer more than just a seasonal visitor economy. I am working to find that balance.

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