TONY Lywood can see a house from his own window which is empty 50 weeks out of every 52.

“It was sold for half a million to an options trader from London,” he recalls. “He’s there 12, maybe 15 days every year.”

It’s not uncommon in the town where he lives. Tony is county councillor for Keswick and says: “Half of the houses sold in Keswick go as holiday lets or second homes. Over a period of time about 28 per cent of the housing here has gone that way.”

It matters, he adds, because empty houses are bad for any town. “The schools, the services, the community, everything is diminished.”

But it also matters because wealthy outsiders snapping up holiday houses leave fewer houses for people who live and work there all year round. And a shortage of anything pushes the price up.

That’s why the average house price in the national park is £246,423 yet the average wage is £33,237.

Nobody can be blamed for wanting to live in the Lake District. But second home buyers can be blamed for pricing local families out of the market.

According to the 2011 census around 24 per cent of houses in the Lake District were second homes. But in some parts that figure rose above 50 per cent.

It’s not a problem that is unique to Cumbria. It can be seen in many beautiful parts of Britain. More than 10 per cent of all the houses in the Yorkshire Dales National Park are second homes. And the national park authority there have come up with a proposal to tackle it.

They are suggesting increasing the council tax on a second home to five times its current level.

In Craven District Council within the Yorkshire Dales, for example, the annual tax on a Band D property is £1,640.

Under the proposal that bill would rise to more than £8,000 if it was a second home.

Tony thinks it could be a good idea for the Lake District. Speaking of the owner of the house near him, he says: “If the council tax double he won’t care. If it goes up fivefold it might make more of an impact.

“So I’m interested in what the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority are saying.”

Hiking up the council tax on second homes is only one potential answer to the problem.

Keswick Community Housing Trust is attempt to provide affordable houses for renting or buying for people living and working in the town. The first set are in Calvert Way and there are plans for more soon.

There is also a condition on any new housing developments in the town - that a certain number have to be for local occupancy. “But that is only for new build,” Tony points out. “It doesn’t affect existing housing.”

A shortage of affordable housing is something Tim Farron has long campaigned about.

“Houses is some places can cost a quarter of a million - and yet household income can be £20,000,” he complains.

Back in October the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP put down a motion in the House of Commons calling on the Government to change the planning law - so that property owners would need planning permission to change a family home into a second home.

“If our councils had the power to reject bids for second homes, they could better meet the needs of the local communities struggling with excessive second home ownership in a fair and effective way,” he says.

“When you've got so many homes not lived in, it means you've not got people sending their kids to the local school, using the post office or the bus services.

“Then you end up with the risk of losing those services because they're no longer viable.”

Like Tony, he supports the idea of a council tax increase on second homes.

“The Yorkshire Dales National Park proposal is definitely a step in the right direction.

“Allowing councils to increase council tax significantly on second homes would not be about penalising second home owners, but about asking them to pay a fair contribution towards those vital local services which are at risk.”

Mayor of Keswick Susan Leighton is slightly more guarded about the idea.

“The Yorkshire Dales NPA idea is certainly interesting and may gain some sympathy here,” she says. “It is a situation to watch with interest.”

But she adds: “Questions may need to be asked as to what the higher council tax may be used for, and whether it could be used to fund the development of more affordable housing.

“Also there is a concern as to what may happen if second home owners decide to sell up. We may find there is an increase in buy-to-let as local people may still not be able to afford these properties. This is a bit of an unknown, untested situation.”

To Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, housing has to be looked at as part of a bigger picture.

“I would welcome local planning authorities looking more closely at different ways to incentivise local home ownership, and looking at whether the balance of second homes has swung too far in the wrong direction,” he says,

But he adds: “I would argue that we should be careful about looking at issues such as housing in isolation, but look at a whole range of initiatives in the round.

“Absolutely, we need to do more to retain our younger generation, and all the talent and skills that they have, here in the county. And there will be lots of different ways of doing that, not just through housing.”

Housing has to be matched with infrastructure, and he says: “This not just about roads and rail, but most importantly about investment in broadband and mobile: better telecomms and digital connection is the future of this county, and the future of the jobs and businesses that are going to attract young Cumbrians.”

Eden District Council has a £6 million fund set aside for affordable housing to be used in different ways, as council leader Kevin Beaty explains:

Persimmon Homes is currently building houses in the district and Kevin says: “We are negotiating with Persimmon to buy 86 of those houses to rent out to local people.

“To some degree we will be prioritising key workers such as nurses and doctors. Twice in the last few years the hospital in Alston had to close because of a shortage of staff.”

Another scheme is to work with parish councils to identify sites where affordable housing could go.

One such project will be in Lazonby, with a development of “live and work units”, which could boost jobs as well as housing. “They would be affordable homes above workshop premises.”

However Kevin stresses that the housing shortage in his district is not just about a lack of affordable homes. “It’s a lack of homes generally. Even if someone came along to buy a £10 million they would struggle.

“There has been a huge change over the last 30 to 40 years. We have a lot more people in single occupancy dwellings where there used to be a family. There are fewer people living in houses.

“Plus we have an ageing stock of houses. At any one time - so I’m told - we have 1,000 people waiting for a home in Eden.”

So would the authority in charge of our national park follow the plans of their counterparts in the Yorkshire Dales with a council tax hike?

They may do. “Currently there is no legislation controlling second-home ownership in the Lake District, or elsewhere,” says Liam McAleese, head of strategy and partnership.

“The Yorkshire Dales National Park is sharing information about their proposals for council tax increases for existing second homes with us, and we have not ruled out the idea of exploring similar approaches for Lake District.”

They are also trying to redress the balance though planning permission. “Our policy is only to permit new homes where they contribute towards meeting a local need or affordable need, and are permanently occupied.”



Average house price: £154,350

Average household income: £25,000


Average house price: £117,983

Average household income: £22,623


Average house price: £129,426

Average household income: £24,984


Average house price: £120,935

Average household income: £24,793


Average house price: £199,648

Average household income: £28,086

South Lakeland:

Average house price: £230,397

Average household income: £31,189