Should second homers be banned from buying new Norfolk homes?
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY
As Norfolk’s coastal areas deal with the challenges of second homeowners, is now the time for legal measures to protect communities?
On Monday, 32 flats in Hunstanton were approved by West Norfolk Council’s planning committee.
The council – who is also the developer – included a covenant in the plans, a legal agreement that says the homes will be sold to local people, preventing them from being used as second homes or holiday lets.
Norfolk’s coastal communities have seen a big increase in second homeowners in recent years, with more than one-third of Wells properties now in second home-owner hands.
Alongside this come increased house prices that can force out locals. Wells’ properties are more than 14 times the average household income.
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David Fennell, chairman of Homes for Wells, a group that aims to help local people afford to live in local homes, said he was pleased to see the covenants used in Hunstanton.
“We wish we could do it here, putting in restrictive covenants that are enforced, that’s got to be the way forward,” he said.
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“If someone is going to come here and retire then they are going to spend money here - that’s great for the local community.
“Part of what we want to do is to try to keep Wells a living community year-round."
Mr Fennell said they were now getting more applications from people who were being made to leave rentals by owners who wanted to turn them into holiday lets.
“It might be legal but we are struggling to keep up with demand,” he said.
“It’s not doing the community any favours – it's breaking the community up, breaking up multigenerational families and making it difficult to get key workers here.”
Greg Hewitt, Wells' town clerk, agreed there was an issue for local people but did not think covenants were the solution.
“There’s a transient population in Wells, it drives up housing prices for local people and people who used to retire here – teachers, doctors – the prices are so high those people are priced out.”
Mr Hewitt gave the example of his daughter, who lives in a Homes for Wells house, who could not afford a house despite being a teacher.
“My feeling is that there needs to be government intervention and that needs to be a cap on the number of second homes a community can sustain,” Mr Hewitt said.
“Unless something is done to stop it, then this place could well turn into a holiday resort.”
Both Mr Fennell and Greg Hewitt stressed that they wanted visitors and tourists, but there needed to be balance.
While North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker welcomed the idea of government support, he did not think limiting second homes numbers was the right approach, which he said was against the free market.
Instead, Mr Baker supported measures like ring-fenced housing, which, like the Hunstanton flats, would go to select groups first.
“Ring-fenced homes is an area of interest. If you look at the Stratford Olympic Village, police officers and NHS staff were able to [get preference]," he said.
“I would encourage people to look at that here, for example for agricultural workers, to have preferential treatment.”
Mr Baker added that more affordable homes for sale and rent were also needed to meet the local demand, and welcomed the government’s First Homes proposal – a scheme that could provide a 30pc discount against market value for first-time buyers.
Hunstanton mayor Adrian Winnington agreed limiting numbers was not the solution, saying it was best done on a local level by people who knew their communities.
Asked if West Norfolk Council would be encouraging more covenants on developments, a spokeswoman said they would leave the issue to local communities in their neighbourhood plans.
Mr Winnington said the town council planned to include similar limits in its own local plan.
However, constrained properties were not without risk, the WNC spokesperson said, as they were typically only a small proportion of the total properties.
She added: “It risks putting pressure on the prices of unconstrained occupancy second-hand properties.
“The ‘constrained’ properties may be more difficult to sell, or possibly schemes will prove unviable, so development is stalled.”