We must keep free choice over housing in Yorkshire Dales
, April 2005 John Meadowcroft
The high price of houses in the Yorkshire Dales is caused by the fact there are too many people wanting to buy too few houses. It is basic economics that where demand outstrips supply prices will rise accordingly.
Of course, there are good reasons why the supply of houses in the Dales should be limited; nobody wants to see an area of outstanding natural beauty built over with new housing. Nevertheless, it may be the case that the present planning controls are too strict and it would be possible to allow more new building without seriously harming the local environment.
This is a question that the National Park Authority should revisit and tough choices may have to be made where such strict conservation so dramatically limits the supply of new houses and thereby imposes high costs on people. If the supply of houses is not to be expanded, however, it does not follow that artificially lowering demand by imposing a locals-only rule is a reasonable policy.
On the contrary, the locals-only rule may exacerbate the problem by further reducing the supply of new houses if developers are unwilling to build where artificially lowered prices diminishes the return on their investment. They may also use cheaper materials and cut back on design costs, leading to long-term aesthetic and sustainability problems. Few would want to see the Dales become renowned for cheap and ugly houses, but this may be a consequence of the rule.
By restricting the sale of houses within the national park, the rule may raise demand outside the park area and thereby push up prices in other picturesque parts of the county. A problem that is presently limited to a relatively small geographical area may soon become much more widespread if the rule is applied.
It should also be remembered that new houses quickly become what Americans like to call previously enjoyed houses. For this policy to be effective wider restrictions will have to be placed on the sale of houses more generally, as has been the case in other parts of the country. This initial ruling may be the beginning of a long process by which peoples freedom to buy and sell houses where they choose is curtailed.
The rule is also based upon erroneous assumptions about the negative impact of commuter, retirement and holiday homes on rural areas like the Dales. It is not the case that a rural area where many homes are owned by commuters, retirees or are second-homes will become fossilised. On the contrary, recent research by Dr Aileen Stockdale of Aberdeen University shows that retirees and commuters who live in the countryside tend to spend more money and hence bring greater prosperity than many long-term residents. Rather than seeking to prevent such people from moving to places like the Dales, local authorities should seek ways to help people to utilise the economic benefits that follow to create vibrant, thriving communities.
Not only is the rule impractical, it is also unfair and inequitable. The rule assumes that some people have a greater right to live in a particular locality than others. This goes against the grain of a free society, and also raises the question of what constitutes a local person? I grew up and went to school in the village of Shelley outside Huddersfield, but having since moved away, might I now be prevented from returning? Am I really less of a local person than someone who happened to move to Shelley from the South coast three years ago?
Equally, is it fair that someone who has