Poll: Community leaders in Suffolk and Essex in criticise former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion over second homes stance

People can have their say on how Aldeburgh should develop in the future

People can have their say on how Aldeburgh should develop in the future - Credit: Andrew Partridge

COMMUNITY leaders have hit back at the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion after he claimed that second home owners were “gutting” rural towns and villages and should face higher taxes.

Sir Andrew, president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, blamed “townies in the countryside” for helping to create the housing shortage and said he wanted to see increased taxes on second homes to “put them out of reach” for wealthy families.

But representatives from Suffolk have said the 60-year-old should leave rural communities, which can benefit greatly from second home owners, alone.

The former Poet Laureate, said: “I would increase taxes on second homes to make it very expensive.

“I think there’s a question about whether second homes mean you have inert dormitory communities in the countryside through most of the week, very often lived in by people who scoot down in their cars, see their smart friends, don’t join in the life of the community and don’t feed into it.

“They’re townies in the countryside, they make sure they’re back in London in time to catch the 10 o’clock news on Sunday night. That means rural communities are gutted.”

But last night Dr Wil Gibson, of Community Action Suffolk, formerly chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, said he disagreed completely with Sir Andrew.

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He said the biggest challenge facing rural communities was to look after their own growing populations by providing more affordable housing and that second home-owners could bring great benefits to towns and villages in the countryside.

He said: “What we have found is that those people who make a conscious effort to come to a village actually get very involved in the community. They have made a positive commitment and even those down for part of the year get involved and many make that transition to reside in Suffolk permanently. We wouldn’t agree with Sir Andrew at all.”

Eric Atkinson, chairman of Aldringham-cum-Thorpe Parish Council, said second home owners put a lot into the community and Thorpeness, which was built as a holiday village, was well-supported by them.

He said: “They have an interest in their homes and when we have meetings quite a lot of them come along and want to contribute.

“I think it has been an irritation to some people as they use the same facilities but don’t pay as much in council tax but it’s changing and houses that are empty are going to be penalised.

“A lot of people who have second homes eventually do retire here and there’s only small demand in Thorpeness for affordable housing.”

Roy Whitworth, Lavenham Parish Council chairman, said there was a need for affordable homes in the village but putting off second home owners would not change the situation.

He added: “I know a lot of people who have a second home here who have the intention of retiring here when they are older. It’s difficult to say ‘they’re just weekenders’ and are using the place for a short term purpose. I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon.

“It does add a certain element of vibrancy to the community. If you look down the street you don’t get the impression that half of the houses are empty.

“I think he (Sir Andrew) has got a bee in his bonnet about the countryside.”

Clacton MP Douglas Carswell said Sir Andrew was “better at understanding poetry than property”.

He said: “If you are going to start using the tax system to basically expropriate people’s private property you are entering a very, very dangerous world. Second home-owners are not a threat.

“They are families coming and spending time in coastal areas; they are older people saving for their retirement. Some sort of blanket tax to stop people or deter them from having a second home would be not only grossly unfair but would have hugely damaging consequences.”

Mr Carswell said he was “slightly shocked” that Sir Andrew had come up with a “hell-bent” proposal.

He added: “It would do to people’s property what the bankers of Cyprus have done for people’s savings. What about second cars? Are we seriously suggesting that Government officers should set a quota for how much property that someone should hold?”

Places including the Dedham Vale and Tendring are popular areas in north-east Essex for people to have second homes.