MP criticises ‘shocking’ 25pc rise in second homes bought in north Norfolk in the past year

Wells Quay bathed in sunshine. Picture: Ian Burt

Wells Quay bathed in sunshine. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Government figures reveal a third of all properties bought in north Norfolk in 2017-18 were second homes. JESSICA FRANK-KEYES looks into the effect this rise has had on the area's coastal communities

With its breath-taking coastline, wide open skies, stunning countryside and charming towns and villages, North Norfolk is regarded as one of Britain's most well-loved destinations.

Paradoxically, the district's appeal is also the source of one of its biggest problems.

A growing rise in second home ownership is forcing up house prices, leading to many who grew up here to be driven out of the communities they've called home.

New figures reveal that a third of all houses bought in North Norfolk last year were second homes or buy-to-let properties.

MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

North Norfolk's Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb described the figure as 'shocking' and is calling for a change in planning policy.

A total 32pc of houses, or 810 properties, bought in North Norfolk from April 2017 to April 2018 were classed as second homes or buy-to let rentals, with a combined value of £234 million.

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And government figures have revealed a 25pc increase from 2016-17, when 650 second homes were bought in the area, the biggest increase in the whole of Norfolk.

Mr Lamb said: 'It's a massive increase in the share of properties, and the fact its risen to over 30pc is really extraordinary.'

Sue Arnold

Sue Arnold

In England, almost one in four properties bought last year were classified as second homes.

Mr Lamb, who is campaigning to have a tax loophole enabling second homeowners to avoid paying any council tax on their properties closed, said local people being priced out of North Norfolk was changing the character of the county's coastline.

He said: 'A lot of people, particularly young families, are struggling to buy a home and are forced to move elsewhere.

'You have a real problem in hot spots along the coast, in villages like Blakeney and Cley, and even a town like Wells.

Blakeney Photo: MARK BULLIMORE

Blakeney Photo: MARK BULLIMORE - Credit: Archant

'A large percentage of houses are second homes so for a large chunk of the year there are not many people around.

'Before this increase 10pc of the housing stock in North Norfolk was second homes. If more than 30pc of what's being bought is by second home owners, there's the risk of that percentage increasing.

'Property prices will go up. You have a lot of people from London and the South East on higher incomes, who can afford higher prices, while in North Norfolk there is one of the biggest gaps in the country between average house prices and average income.

'I think Norfolk and North Norfolk needs to look at what they've done in St Ives where they've established a planning policy around second homes.'

He added: 'Homes are first and foremost a place to live in and we have to take action to ensure there are homes for local people.'

But Brendan Hopkins, owner of The Hoste in Burnham Market, attributed the rise in second home purchases to the existence of holiday letting website Airbnb.

He said: 'North Norfolk is a tourism capital and people are buying specifically to let on there.

'[It] explains why the figures are seeing that spike.'

And North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) cabinet member for planning policy, Sue Arnold, defended the positives of second home ownership, including bringing tourism into the area.

She said: 'North Norfolk is a tourist area and it is a difficulty, as we want people to visit here and we certainly don't want to make them feel unwelcome.

'People want to live here and we want to encourage tourism.

'We are a tourist area and if people buy these houses they have a right to do as they like.

'If they want to let them stand empty most of the year that would be up to them.'

But she added: 'Local people want to feel there are houses for young people.

'Last year we were given 2.4m by the government to address problems experienced by communities which have a high proportion of second homes.

She added: 'We have reservations about the St Ives strategy. We need to know the impact it has in St Ives before we go down that route here.'

Roger Arguile, Wells Town Council tourism portfolio holder, said: 'It's around nine times the average wage to put a deposit down to buy a house in Wells.

'It's a low wage economy because there are people working in tourism which tends to be poorly paid. But you might say those jobs wouldn't be here at all if there were no second homes.

'People say: 'I can't afford to live in Wells. My parents live in Wells, and I work in Wells, but I have to live in Fakenham.'

'There are people who say: 'Yes, I could buy a very small house in Wells, but I can buy a reasonably sized house elsewhere.''

And John Archibald, chief executive of affordable homes charity Victory Housing, said: 'I think [second homes] make our work that much harder.

'We've just built our 1000th affordable house - we're having to run very hard to keep up with the housing demand.

'The more part-time properties there are, the more difficult it is.'

Mr Archibald described tourism as 'the life blood of the district,' but added that so many second homes 'cannot be healthy for the community.'

Council tax petition

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb launched a petition earlier this month to ensure second home owners 'pay their fair share' of taxes.

The Lib Dem MP is calling on chancellor Philip Hammond to prevent second home owners claiming properties are 'available to let' in order to avoid paying council tax.

In England, any property available to let for over 140 days a year can be registered as a holiday business

Holiday homes with a rateable value of under £12,000 are eligible for small business rate relief of 100pc, meaning owners pay no tax.

North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) figures show 1,302 second-home holiday lets are claiming this relief in 2018-19, costing £1,873,998.

While many are genuine holiday homes, the system is open to abuse, Mr Lamb said.

The MP added: 'It's about ensuring second home owners pay their fair share.

'This loophole is unjust for hard pressed council tax payers who are paying for services.

'It should be closed.'

National picture

Government figures on additional property sales show second home buyers appear undeterred by the new taxes.

HMRC stamp duty statistics show around 232,000 second homes were bought in England in April 2017-2018, with an estimated value of more than £70 billion.

Across England, almost one in four properties bought in the last year were classified as second homes, defined by HMRC as a property bought by buyers who already have primary residences.

The government introduced an extra 3pc stamp duty charge on second homes in April 2016, as part of nationwide efforts to clamp down on buy-to-let landlords, property investors and second home owners.

The 810 second homes bought in north Norfolk had a combined value of £234 million, and around £19 million was collected from stamp duty in the area last year, with HMRC figures showing 59pc of that was from additional dwellings.

Are you a second home owner of struggling to buy in north Norfolk? Email reporter