More good news, plus a few updates on housing and tourism issues

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1. Colleagues will wish to join me in congratulating Patricia Yates on here appointment as the new CEO of VisitBritain and Visit England. Patricia will be well known to many of you through her work in various senior appointments with VisitBritain and latterly VisitBritain/VisitEngland. Doubtless like you, I am really looking forward to working with Patricia and supporting her and the VB/VE team to deliver the best possible outcomes for UK international and domestic tourism.  More on Patricia’s appointment from VisitBritain Visit England at:   https://elinkeu.clickdimensions.com/m/1/18389858/p1-b22173-c8db121305ff40f28f6d3eb32891998c/1/831/5a60674c-482a-41d3-9cda-0d89701edd36 .

2. Sods law, yet again within hours of me publishing a note on the housing market and the conflicting impacts on tourism (here) there is a suggestion in the Times that Michael Gove and the Levelling up Department may be proposing more relevant changes.  It is reported that the proposal is to give new (and presumably existing?) regional mayors (adoptive powers ?) to limit short-term letting via an amendment to the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill currently going through Parliamentary process.

The proposed amendment would require those wishing to undertake short-term lettings to apply for planning permission (change of us?). Presumable the essence of the idea being that without prior planning permission for anything but very short, occasional short-term lets, the owner would be in breach of planning consent? As ever the devil will be in the detail, for example, will it apply retrospectively to properties already operating or claiming to operate in the short-term holiday market?  What are the justifications for refusal, appeals prosses etc. ?

It is not clear yet if this is: a leak of firm plans, an informal testing of the potentially hot waters on the part of DLUHC (Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities), a fishing trip on the part of the Times, or something else? Whatever it is, unless and until its confirmed, don’t bet your home on it happening just yet. 

What is becoming clear to me by hour and not mentioned in my, as ever overlong piece on the issues, is that the current impacts of short-term lets on the availability of long-term lets, in particular, is becoming a political hot potato.  Local voters aren’t happy and that for complex reasons that worries this Government at this particular time more than it would in normal times.  To be brutally frank about it, in current political circumstances both the pace and the nature of any Government’s reaction will be drive as much if not more by how it might playout in influencing local voting preferences, often in more marginal places, than it will by any rational thoughts or arguments made, either for or against the idea of applying greater restrictions on short-term lets.  

If you lean towards the tightening the rules and regulation then this a rare passing window of opportunity and the good news accompanying it is that there is significant anecdotal and more substantive evidence suggesting broad local resident support for robust action in many a tourist hot spot. If you lean towards a more market driven view, there a very real short-term passing threat here for owners of properties that are let. The accompanying good news is that rental property, second and holiday home owners are of course a voters too, but not necessarily always primarily in the places where second home ownership is perceived to be a major issue. It is worth noting that in our somewhat quirky voting system, in most instances second home owners can (or could if they wished) vote as many times as they have properties, provided they are not in the same constituency and the property is not let as someone else’s main residency from which they would vote, i.e. almost exclusively a longer-term lets. Even with that caveat in place, on balance popular genuinely local sentiment is more likely to outweigh and out vote any amount of contrived external voting preference.

3. Some minor corrections to my original note. There are several versions of DLUHC notifications for the Level up and regeneration Bill which use slightly different wording concerning powers to charge premium rates on empty and holiday homes.  Yesterday I suggested the charges in England applied to empty homes and empty holiday homes, but only because I couldn’t be certain I had seen some comment to the contrary.  Today I rediscovered the original quote: “Councils will also be able to double council tax on empty and second homes, ensuring everyone pays their fair share towards local services and boost levelling up”. I take this to mean that like in Wales the intent is to allow Council to charge a premium on occupied holiday homes where they feel it is justified.

The caveat in this case is that what is announced in the headlines for a proposed piece of legislation isn’t necessarily what always emerges when the Bill passes through multiple layers of Parliamentary process and scrutiny.  It’s hard to believe that until very recently many Councils offered discount to holiday home owners to encourage them to come and to recognise a perceived lower level of local service usage. Indeed some may still do? This is a concession that predates alleged abuse of business and business rate status and separately the concurrent, exponential growth in second homes ownership of all types and for all purposes.  It is also in large part, yet another instance of disruptive industries, utterly changing the prevailing circumstances, ultimately necessitating a review of the historic ground rules?

I always agonise of the selection of words to try and ensure nothing can be too easily misconstrued.  For those who know me, no I haven’t moved to Keswick! I just failed to appreciate the potential importance of the inclusion of the word “former” in the sentence “my own home town of Keswick”.  There is oddly a relevance to this in that I was born and brought up there. Unfortunately, like 95% plus of my peers and former school friends growing up there in the 60s and 70s, all but a hand full of whom left to find work, I couldn’t now reasonably afford to try return there to live. Nor perhaps at this precise moment, would it be appropriate, even in my most wistful moments, for my thoughts to turn toward buying a nice little holiday home there.  

Another, off the cuff thought. For those of us in the industry in positions making the case for or against major such critical changes of legislation, should we not perhaps be asked to make a declaration of personal interest? After all, in the case of second and holiday homes at least, the statistics suggest it is people like me and of my age group plus and minus 10 years who are most likely to have a personal interest in the outcome.  In my own case disappointingly for me I have nothing to declare here.  Other than of course a genuine interest in getting the right balance between encouraging tourists, not inadvertently destroying or hollowing out the communities and places they come to visit, the creation and maintenance of viable visitor economies and ones that genuinely benefit and employ happy and content people, preferably wherever possible, from within the local community. That brings as back neatly to the old mantra that on reflections underpins what we need to achieve in the housing market tourism market debate: nice places to both live and work in are generally nice places to visit and vice versa.

The full press release detailing the proposed Levelling up and regeneration Bill, referenced above, can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-bill-to-level-up-the-nation

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