As the shortage of houses either to rent or buy becomes ever more acute across the country, it is useful to open a discussion on what different solutions are being put in place by different councils. In Richmondshire, North Yorkshire a punitive tax of £30 – 40k on private owned houses has been introduced for all single builds whose sale value is over £230k. The money raised will go towards building affordable homes. This is the alleged follow-on from asking all commercial builders to provide 40% of their commercial sites for affordable housing – a scheme whose merits are yet to be quantified.
There are two questions with this approach in Richmondshire. Are they trying to encourage more sites to be brought forward for development? Or are they trying to solve the housing crisis by housing all those who can't afford to buy a home? It seems the latter. Instead of officers trying to kick start the private housing market by lowering regulation, focus has been placed firmly on how to pay for more state owned housing.
In Richmondshire, not a single commercial development has been completed since 2008 when the 40% contribution was first introduced. The only private house building that has taken place has been the 57 single homes built on average each year, mainly in the rural areas. Does the council really think that it can solve all affordable housing needs by punishingly high taxes on those who wish to build their own private homes? It is a recipe for disaster. Soon only the very rich or the very poor will be able to live in a new home. Local hard working families, who pride themselves on their independence, are not poor enough to get on the housing list, and not rich enough to buy the pretty cottages in the villages. They will have to struggle on or leave their communities.
The way the tax is implemented will also have a serious impact on prices in the future, and on whether a build will go ahead or not. The tax is due not on sale but on completion of the build. Small village builders do not have the same economies of scale, nor ability to carry large debt, that the big developers have. Nor do those who build their own homes to live in. But all must find this extra £30 – 40k on top of any house building costs.
The council will employ officers to assess the economic viability of every house built to make sure frivolous construction techniques, or Grand Design build ideas, are not at the expense of paying the 40%. Perhaps these could be called the Envy Police.
The real issue is that the desire to bring forward more sites to build houses for rent or to buy through the planning policies is being confused with a method of taxation to pay for social housing. There is no shortage of land in Richmondshire, but regulations to prevent the villages growing beyond their boundaries are so tight that prices are pushed up as demand far outstrips supply.
Where are these confusing ideas on planning coming from in a democracy that is meant to be local? In rural Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, the majority of councillors claim to be Independant. The
concept "Independant" is seen somehow to be better than joining a political party and having a clear mandate and strategy to follow.
Unfortunately, a lack of a clear democratic mandate gives officers of any council the power to set their own direction, whatever the local electors thought they were electing. Rather than local communities deciding
what housing they want at parish level, the officers are choosing the solutions and imposing them. How are these Independents letting the public know what steer they are giving the officers?
The new tax came to full council only once for debate, hidden in part of the massive Local Development Framework document, under a title of "minute SB26". As clear as mud when a member of the public looks at the agenda. The statutory consultation with parishes did not even allude to the new policy. There have been no press releases by the council. This opaque and secretive way of running the council keeps everybody blind. A punitive tax on private home building will not solve Richmondshire’s housing crisis. What is your council doing?