Warning over the “corrosive impact” of second homes

• Ex Highland Council leader wants taxes to fund affordable housing

Picturesque Skye – where many locals are finding themselves priced out of the market
PHOTO: Willie Urquhart/WHFP

Former Highland Council leader Dr Michael Foxley has urged the current administration to take action on the “corrosive negative impact” of second homes on many parts of the region.

Dr Foxley, a former Lib Dem councillor for Fort William and Ardnamurchan, was responding to a council consultation on housing in the countryside which closed on 18th December 2020. He is now vice chairman of Ardgour Community Council.

The consultation’s findings will be considered by the Scottish Parliament’s economy and infrastructure committee, and adopted following clearance by ministers.

Dr Foxley said: “The increased tax on second homes of 200 per cent was to provide funding for rural housing locally. This revenue has provided no local rural housing. The council tax on second homes should be significantly increased.

“There should be an exemption from any punitive tax for historic family homes which have been used by family members for generations. Holiday homes, and Airbnb conversions, should be capped, at an agreed percentage of housing within any post code area, as they provide little or no local benefit, apart from cleaners. Buyers outbid local people for these properties.”

Young people are being forced out of their communities by a “tidal wave of English incomers with little or no interest in the Gaelic language and culture”, he added.

Because of Covid-19, “people are now fleeing the cities, buying houses and sites unseen, above the offer price, with the proceeds from house sales in London giving them £2-6 million to outbid all local interests”.

Other parts of the UK and Europe have “formidable policies” protecting local people in the housing market, he said, whether by having a strict planning condition that the occupation is for a permanent residence (Cornwall); a two-tier market in housing: one for local people only and another open market (Channel Isles); and rural areas where only local people are allowed to build a permanent residence (Europe).

Dr Foxley suggested limiting second homes to 15 per cent of any post code area, while he was also critical of the ‘points system’ for allocation of social housing.

“Over 50 per cent of homes in west Ardnamurchan are holiday homes, a corrosive negative impact which blights the opportunity for local young people to buy/rent homes,” he added.

“As a founder member of Lochaber Housing Association, our initial policy was that any applicant had to be resident for five years and acquired points for local residency. A couple aged 30 with a two-year old child would have 62 points – and would have received a tenancy.

“The same couple today would not get the tenancy, which would go to someone, ‘homeless’, maybe, but with no local connection. This forces young people to leave their own rural communities.”

Further attention was also needed to develop policies which supported housing, and protected croft land, he said.

“This needs the full support of Highland Council as crofting is now a seriously threatened way of life.

“The loss of arable croft land by development has frequently been prejudicial to the remaining agricultural activities as well as to the landscape and biodiversity.

“Poorer ground, easily managed with modern machinery, should be the preferred option for development. The policy needs to allow development outwith the Settlement Development areas.

“New, genuine crofting townships should be encouraged. The one I encouraged and delivered, as the then Highland councillor for Morvern, at Savary went badly wrong – the concept changed to huge houses for absentees and a block of small dwellings for the young and homeless.

“Sites could, where appropriate, be made available and permitted on the common grazings. Highland Council and others could consider assistance with self-build sites.”