Jonathan Griffin of the NDP Housing Group highlights a difficulty in tackling second homes in the Parish.
‘It is soul-destroying to see empty houses in the village when you are struggling to find a house of your own, in your own village.’
It is hard to argue with the person who said this at a recent meeting. Empty houses do no one any good, except perhaps their absent owners. ‘Local houses for local people’ seems a perfectly acceptable request. It is not surprising therefore that, in our original survey, 86% of people said that there should be no more second homes in the parish. So what is the problem? How bad is it and what can the NDP do about it?
Firstly, the problem. Those of who live here loosely talk about ‘second homes’ as a shorthand description of houses that are ‘dark’ for much of the year and yet the term encompasses many different uses. These range from the genuine second home which is owned by someone who, although not a permanent resident, does use it regularly and whose family, and perhaps friends, ‘come down’ for a break every now and then; to the holiday home which is let for much of the year, perhaps with a block booking for the family during the summer, and at a few half terms; and then there are the dedicated holiday homes run as a business.
Some of these owners justify their ownership because they are ‘looking to retire down to Cornwall’ at some point in the next few years and already feel a sense of belonging to the village.
How do residents feel about these different types of property? Some of them are occupied relatively regularly by people who spend in our shops and pubs for some of the year. Their owners employ local builders, gardeners, cleaners etc and do therefore make an economic contribution, even if they make little other contribution to the community.
How bad is the problem in the Parish? Cornwall Council defines the group as ‘unoccupied households’. The 2011 census showed that the average proportion for Cornwall as a whole was 11% but this disguises some extremes. In the Roseland, central St Ives and St Minver the level is said to be as high as 50-60% in places.
The village of Flushing comes in at 16% overall, slightly above the Cornwall average, although the area along Trefusis Road and out to Kiln Quay reaches 32%. In Mylor Bridge the figure is below the Cornwall average.
It is little consolation to be told that our Parish is not as bad as places like St Ives, St Minver or Mevagissey: we want to avoid becoming like them with their hollowed-out town centres full of houses which are ‘dark’ for much of the year. In Mylor Parish we want to make sure that there are houses available for local people.
What can be done about it? This is where things become difficult. There is currently no way of stopping someone selling an existing house to someone who wants to use it as a second home or holiday home. Imagine you were selling a house in the middle of the village and a local person offered you £X and a second homer offered you £3X. Which would you take?
There is a way of stopping new houses being used as second or holiday homes, however.
St Ives famously introduced a Principal Residence Policy (PRP) which said that new houses could not become second homes. This was very controversial but was finally agreed by Cornwall Council.
So, why can this Parish not do the same? Well, we have tried. We put this into the draft NDP on which you were consulted in summer 2020, but Cornwall Council have warned that it is likely to be deleted unless it can be shown that there has been real damage to the economy or community. This is hard to prove. It also means that we will not be able to have such a policy until the damage has already been done which seems a bit back-to-front.
But a PRP may be the wrong policy anyway. As one consultee put it ‘People who want a second home are not looking for a new home on the edge of the village. They want an old building in the heart of the village. They want to feel that they are in the middle of things.’
If a PRP cannot be used for existing housing then it will not work for the very houses that second homers want to buy. The Policy may sound and look very attractive, but it may not be effective.
Cornwall Council also warned us to be wary of using a PRP as there is some evidence that the St Ives one may have back-fired and distorted house prices even further in St Ives.
Is it worth a fight to keep the Principal Residence Policy in the NDP?
Realistically, the number of homes affected by a PRP is going to be very few. As drafted, the NDP will not be allowing any new open-market houses outside the village (Affordable homes are not affected). So the only houses affected will be new (not replacement) houses inside the village boundaries. And how many of those are there going to be? A few people might decide to divide up their gardens and add a new house, but not many.
Ah, you may say, stopping any houses becoming second homes is worth the fight. Yes, but Cornwall Council has another trick up its sleeve to persuade us against a PRP. It is all pretty technical but it means that, if there is a PRP, the whole Parish will get less money to spend on infrastructure when a new house is built, and the proportion of affordable houses drops.
So, we have a problem. The community wants to control the number of second and holiday homes in the Parish but no one has yet found a way of doing it effectively. The only option open to us is a PRP but this has a sting in its tail.
It seems lame to say to the person quoted at the beginning. ‘We agree with you but cannot find a way of solving the problem’ but that is the reality. Certainly not in the way they meant.
What is really needed is for Cornwall Council to recognise the very real threat that all its seaside communities face and to develop a policy of its own. Can you see that happening in a hurry? If they do then central government will no doubt tell them, in turn, that it is not acceptable. After all, ‘they’ want their holiday homes in Cornwall irrespective of what ‘we’ think.
What do you think? Is there another way to achieve what we all want?