Union calls for second homes to be seized for the homeless
Under-used holiday homes in the South West should be seized by councils in areas with an acute shortage of properties, a leading union has urged.
Local authorities in Devon and Cornwall should be given compulsory purchase powers on second homes only used a few weeks each year for holidays in certain areas, according to the GMB.
The call comes after research showed more than 40,000 people own a holiday home in the South West, with almost 32,000 living outside the region.
A report by the National Housing Federation revealed a chronic shortage of homes in the South West, where the housing waiting list rose by a quarter to more than 186,000 last year – the biggest in the country. More than 10,000 people have a holiday home in Cornwall and normally live elsewhere – the highest number for an authority in the region according to the 2011 Census data. The next highest was the South Hams with 3,738 holiday homes, and 2,405 in East Devon.
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The union said local authorities should be given powers to levy taxes on under-used holiday houses, or even the power to buy the properties.
Mark Kaczmarek, cabinet member for housing and planning at Cornwall Council, said: "Although the idea of compulsory purchase is unrealistic, the public needs to lobby the Government on this issue.
"Councils need to be given more power to take action on properties which are very seldom used.
"Under-used second homes blight local communities, increase house prices, and are a complete waste of resources."
The NHF study found that more than 27,000 new households were formed in the region last year, but only 16,100 new homes were built.
Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George said owners of properties defined as second homes should be subject to higher taxes and have to seek planning permission.
Claire Wright, Independent East Devon District Councillor, said: "I applaud the GMB for putting the spotlight on this very important and spiralling issue, which is getting bigger every year."
"The idea of compulsory purchase is useful but it might be an unsuccessful policy with local councils having to cut their budget by 30%.
"The Government should, at least, impose higher taxes on holiday homes empty for most of the year."
Across the 37 local councils in the region, there are 40,030 people with holiday homes.
John Philips, GMB regional secretary said: "In many areas urgent action is needed to ascertain if properties used as holiday homes are actually in use at all." A Communities and Local Government Department spokesman said new legislation had given councils the flexibility to remove council tax relief on second homes and empty homes.