Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Second homes

Speaking as a Devonian who has never got so much as a toenail on the property ladder, I am finding the continually rising house prices in the county beyond a joke. With the exception of one grandparent who was born over the border in Dorset, the last four generations (at least) of my family were born in Devon. Whilst that doesn’t give me a God-given right to be a Devon homeowner, it does make me a bit cross.
Unless I lie about our earnings, which is what everyone else is doing, it appears, the most we can raise is a mortgage of £90,000. In the village where I live, that might buy a share in a dilapidated stone shed.
Yesterday, I read that Devon’s property prices have practically doubled since 1999. I reckon this is partly due to pointless surveys commissioned by estate agents that suggest Devon is the best county to live in. We residents already know this, of course, but I really wish the fact wasn’t advertised in London, where stressed out city dwellers can be tempted to swap their annual bonuses for a nice little thatched retreat in a quaint village which they can visit once in a while in order to patronise the locals over a couple of pints of Speckled Hen.
In the South Hams where second homes make up 11% of all housing, councils are discussing whether to raise the discounted council tax on second homes from 50% to 90%. Big deal. If you can afford to run a house that you don’t actually live in, I hardly think you’re going to be dissuaded by a 40% rise in council tax.
An organisation in North Devon, the Appledore Pirates, is considering whether to draw attention to the problem by sticking black bin liners in the letterboxes belonging to second homes. This might sound a bit hostile, but if councils fail to provide adequate affordable housing, you can understand why the local residents get angry at what could be seen as social cleansing by economic means.
If things carry on as they are, rural Devon will become a massive theme park devoid of life. No farms, no shops, no schools, no pubs, no animals, and nobody to deliver advice on growing spuds. At that point, of course, second home owners will decide on selling up because the area will have lost it’s character.

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