'Breakthrough' for the second homes council tax campaign as local council forum takes it forward
PUBLISHED: 12:28 29 November 2017 | UPDATED: 23:48 29 November 2017
A campaign to help north Norfolk communities affected by high levels of second home ownership has taken a step forward, after a motion pressing for a fair distribution of second homes council tax was passed at a meeting of the Norfolk Association of Local Councils (ALC).
The motion was put forward by Sheringham and Cromer town councils on behalf of North Norfolk Town and Parish Council Forum, which was set up two years ago to enable local councils to work together on town and parish-wide issues ranging from maintenance contracts and planning, to affordable housing.
Forum members, who meet monthly at Cromer, were “overwhelmingly” in support of investigating the second homes issue, and after looking at how the effects of high levels of second homes in their communities could best be mitigated, agreed to put forward their views to the Norfolk ALC.
Forum chairman Liz Withington, who is a Sheringham town councillor, said the group, which aimed to give north Norfolk towns and villages a “voice”, was concerned that some communities were missing out.
Currently, 88pc of second home council tax raised in north Norfolk goes to Norfolk County Council, with the remaining 12pc going to North Norfolk District Council to be distributed to local communities via the Big Society Fund, which has handed out nearly £1.5 million since being launched in 2012.
“The grants can be used for capital things like equipment, which is good for village hall refurbishments or play parks, but if you wanted to hire a hall to run a lunch club, pay a driver for a community transport scheme, or hire a fitness trainer to run an exercise class, then you wouldn’t qualify,” Mrs Withington said.
“What this means is that where there is a shortage of volunteers because of high second home ownership, communities are not benefiting.”
The forum was “absolutely” not against the Big Society Fund, or second home ownership, Mrs Withington added, but felt money destined for affected towns and villages should be fairly and evenly distributed.
“We are concerned about the effect second homes have on the availability of housing stock, about inflated house and rental prices and about the issue of the breakdown of community structure,” Mrs Withington explained. “What happens is that amenities are lost due to lack of numbers and the end result is that the most vulnerable in our society become isolated and lonely - those are the people who need support.”
Forum member and Cromer town clerk Julie Chance, who is also town clerk at Trimingham, Trunch and Sea Palling, wrote the paper presented to the Norfolk ALC meeting.
It urged both Norfolk ALC and the national body to explore how second homes council tax is redistributed nationally; how town and parish councils protected housing for key workers and how they managed the number of properties sold as second homes.
It also suggested looking at the possibility of increasing second home council tax, or re-directing a share directly to local councils to enable them provide services in their communities.
“We have worked for nearly two years, but we have finally made a breakthrough,” Mrs Chance said. “I think that because we are working together as a cluster, we are giving our town and parish councils more clout.”
Mrs Withington added: “Hopefully, the outcome of this will be that there will be clear direction from the government as to how the money raised from second home council tax is spent in the local communities affected.”
North Norfolk second homes, facts and figures
Of the 53,506 dwellings in the North Norfolk District Council area, 10.3pc, or 5,686, are second homes.
Sheringham has the highest number of second homes at 553, closely followed by Wells at 536.
Of Blakeney’s 579 dwellings, 289 are second homes.
The town or village with the highest percentage of second homes is Salthouse, with 47pc, followed by Blakeney with 42 pc.
As a district, north Norfolk has more than 40pc of Norfolk’s second homes.
More than 50 pc of NNDC parishes have more than 10pc of second homes or holiday homes.
North Norfolk is the sixth highest district in the country for the number of second homes.