The issue of new housing being bought up as second or third homes is not just a London issue. Second homes have devastated communities in popular tourist destinations across the country.
Wealthy people buying up homes in idyllic locations such as the Lake District and Cornwall have priced locals out of the housing market, just as the vast flood of foreign capital entering the London market has removed any hope of anyone from London under the age of 35 owning a home.
Now St Ives is fighting back, and their attempt to exclude outsiders from their housing market raises an interesting question, could the same thing be done in London?
St Ives has seen a huge boom in their housing market, fuelled by people buying holiday homes. As a result of this flood of money, house prices have now raised 18 times average incomes, which is even worse than London.
Residents are now voting on a new neighbourhood plan for the area. A neighbourhood plan is a planning document that has been drawn up by the local community. If adopted it becomes an official planning document of the local authority and its policies must be followed by law. Councils must adopt the plan if it is passed in a local referendum. This community led planning was at the centre of the reforms introduced as part of the Localism Act.
As part of their neighbourhood plan residents in St Ives are proposing to prevent people who are not resident in the town from buying new build homes. If the new plan is adopted, planning permission will not be able to be granted for new homes unless they come attached with a condition that they are only sold to residents. This will be enforced by requiring new home owners to provide evidence that the home is their primary residence.
The initiative raises a number of interesting issues. Neighbourhood plans cannot make new law, they must exist within current legal structures. The policies must not contradict national planning policies. Can local communities ban non-residents from new homes under current national planning rules?
Before the neighbourhood plan can proceed to a referendum it needed to go to an independent examination. The report from the examiner reveals that although he had some concerns about the residence policy he did think it could meet national planning policies. He came to this conclusion on the basis that the situation in St Ives had become so bad that not adopting the policy would prevent sustainable development. The report said:
After much deliberation and on balance I have concluded that due to the adverse impact on the local community/economy of the uncontrolled growth of second homes the restriction of further second homes does in fact contribute to delivering sustainable development. In terms of “delivering a wide choice of quality homes”, I consider that the restriction could in fact be considered as facilitating the delivery of the types of homes identified as being needed within the community.
So could this happen in London? Until now the furthest the Mayor has been prepared to go is a pitifully weak deal with developers, that only asks that they offer their overpriced homes built for the foreign investment market to Londoners first, before selling them offshore.
Have the residents of St Ives shown us what is possible when policy makers are serious about providing homes for the community to live in?
Who knows. Any attempt would likely be the subject to a legal challenge from the kind of developers that have based their whole business model on selling our city to the offshore pound. It may be such a policy that covering an area as large as London may be deemed too restrictive, but perhaps some areas could be put aside for housing residents.
Thoughts on St Ives pioneering move are welcome in the comments section below.