Is the second-home market damaging UK national parks?

John Fraser and Lizzy Henderson got engaged this summer — John proposed under a tree on their favourite walk up to the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub, in the most northerly, wild and romantic part of the Yorkshire Dales. The couple, who are both 30, have lived in the Dales all their lives and would love to stay, but they want to buy a home and to do so here would be impossible as house prices in the national park average just over £317,000, more than double the value for the wider region.

“We rent at the moment and could never afford to buy so will have to move miles away to get on the ladder,” says Lizzie, a nurse. “It is the same for our friends — all are leaving.”

Analysis of property data for the 13 national parks in England and Wales by Hamptons International estate agency reveals that a home in a park costs about 62 per cent more than their regional averages.

High prices are one of the biggest issues facing national parks, which were established 70 years ago by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. And many believe second-home owners are a big part of the problem.

JRRN6E Sheep crossing road at the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in the country, North Yorkshire, England UK
The Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in the country © Alamy

“The issue of affordable housing remains pervasive, and is exacerbated by the proportion of homes in many parks that are owned as second homes or holiday lets,” says Andrew Hall, communications and campaigns officer at Campaign for National Parks.

The 2011 Census, the most accurate measure of property tenure in national parks, revealed that 22 per cent of household spaces in the Yorkshire Dales had no usual residents, with second homes accounting for half of this figure. Campaign for National Parks says that for every new dwelling built in the park, two change from permanent occupancy to a holiday let or second property.

Chart showing average property price in UK national parks and percentage difference to regional price

In recent years, the number of homes in UK national parks listed on short-term rental websites such as Airbnb has grown rapidly. According to research carried out for the FT by AirDNA, which monitors the short-let market, there were two homes listed on Airbnb in or around the Lake District in January 2016. In October this year, there were 2,468.

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In the Peak District, the number of Airbnb listings has increased from 180 in August 2016 to 946 in August 2019. In the Yorkshire Dales, the number of listings jumped from 53 to 454 over the same period.

Chart and map showing Airbnb listings in UK national parks

Last year, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority proposed increasing council tax on second homes, but Richmondshire district council voted against the move.

“The Dales is characterised by strong, self-reliant communities,” the National Park Authority chairman Carl Lis said after the defeat. “Some of these communities have been considerably weakened in the past 20 years by — among other factors — the rapid growth in unoccupied and under-occupied housing. Empty houses do not make for vibrant villages. The dramatically shrunken rolls at some primary schools tell the story most powerfully of all.”

EEX8B9 The River Walkham flowing under the old granite bridge at the picturesque village of Little Huckworthy on Dartmoor National park
Little Huckworthy in Dartmoor National Park © Alamy

There is a similar tale unfolding in the Lake District, where, on average, about 24 per cent of properties are second homes. In Patterdale and Skelwith parishes, more than 50 per cent of houses are not in permanent residential use, rising to almost 60 per cent in Martindale parish. A 2011 local housing trust survey found that approximately 70 per cent of the properties in the villages of Chapel Stile and Elterwater were classed as weekend or holiday homes.

“Homes used as second homes or for holiday letting are capable of offering local economic benefit,” says Liam McAleese, head of strategy and partnerships at the Lake District National Park Authority. “However, a high concentration of holiday houses can noticeably reduce the resident population of a local community. This additional demand increases house prices. Where a high proportion of houses are not permanently occupied, it makes it harder for services like schools and doctors, for employers to recruit locally, and for a sense of community to be maintained.”

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In some of the UK’s national parks, the number of people of working age is falling. In the Dales, just 23 per cent of the population is aged 18-44, compared with a national average of 37 per cent.

B895GP Chapel Stile and the Langdale Pikes. Great Langdale. Lake District National Park, Cumbria, England, United Kingdom, Europe.. Image shot 02/2009. Exact date unknown.
Great Langdale in the Lake District National Park © Alamy

Some park authorities are trying to ensure that new housing be used for full-time residential accommodation only; such plans are afoot in the North York Moors, where 17.3 per cent of households have no usual residents, and in the Northumberland national park, where almost 20 per cent of properties are not lived in full-time.

“As the most remote and sparsely populated national park in England, we are very conscious of the impact second homes, especially empty homes, will have on our communities,” says Tony Gates, chief executive of Northumberland National Park Authority. “We believe a distinction should be drawn between second homes where letting takes place and empty homes not made accessible to visitors.”

High prices are not just caused by high levels of second homes, however. The beautiful views, bucolic setting and protected status give homes in national parks a natural premium over others in their region. On Dartmoor, where only about 8 per cent of properties are not lived in full-time, the average property still costs 12.34 times local earnings; while the New Forest, where 6-7 per cent of homes have no usual resident, is the most expensive park in which to buy — here, Hamptons says the average house price is £622,670, and one in 10 properties sold in the past 12 months went for more than £1m.

Both the New Forest and Dartmoor have seen a rapid growth in Airbnb listings, however. Between August 2016 and August 2019, the number of listings in the New Forest increased from 57 to 269; and in Dartmoor from 76 to 261.

Among the reforms called for in the Glover Review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, published in September was a new National Landscapes Housing Association to build affordable homes. Yet this will come too late for Lizzy and John: they are already house-hunting in Darlington, where the average property price is £158,078, according to Zoopla.

“We will be very sad to leave this beautiful place,” Lizzy says. “But we will be back to visit our beloved Dales as often as we can.”

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