Jo Morgan, Partner in our Residential Property team, looks at the implications of a High Court ruling upholding a ban on new-build second homes in St Ives.
“In May this year St Ives made national headlines when 83% of the residents who voted supported a Neighbourhood Plan which includes a proposal that all new-build homes should be reserved for full-time residents and not be used as holiday homes.
“The decision caused mixed feelings in the town because while many residents feel strongly that the second home market has reached saturation (one in four local properties are said to be second homes or holiday lets) and is pricing locals out of the market, others have been concerned about how the proposed ban has been perceived by prospective buyers and visitors to St Ives, and the potential impact on the town’s visitor economy.
“Some local property agents have reported a downturn in sales of between 5% and 10% since the referendum (not helped by a three per cent hike in stamp duty on second homes since April this year), and feel that prospective buyers have been left confused.
“That uncertainty has been compounded by a legal challenge by a firm of local architects which questioned whether Cornwall Council’s decision to allow the original Neighbourhood Plan referendum was compatible with human rights legislation.
“This week a High Court Judge, Mr Justice Hickinbottom, ruled that the plan was not incompatible with article eight of the European convention of human rights, adding that the council ‘considered that further development in St Ives was unsustainable without the restriction’.
“In welcoming the judge’s decision, Cornwall Council said this cleared the way for the formal ‘making’ of the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan which could happen in around a month’s time, although there is a three week period in which the judge’s decision can be challenged.
“And local councillor Andrew Mitchell said: ‘This is a great day for St Ives. The High Court has agreed with the people of St. Ives and they can now take back control of housing in the town, which is sorely needed after many years of development without any consideration for local needs’.
“It is important to stress that the proposed restriction on second homes applies to new build properties only, so existing properties in the town are not affected.
“And St Ives is keen to stress that it welcomes all-comers with open arms. Carl Lamb, the town’s business improvement district manager said: ‘St Ives has been voted the number one seaside destinations in the UK many times, not only for its charm, beautiful beaches and top quality food, but for its friendliness and welcoming attitude as a community and a town. That will never change’.
“The ramifications of the High Court ruling could be far reaching because it means that town and parish councils with similar policies in their Neighbourhood Plans will also be able to progress them, albeit on a case by case basis.
Mary Wright, Coodes Solicitors’ experienced conveyancer in our St Ives office, said: ‘The decision is in keeping with the planning policy to listen to the local people and take into account their needs. I also suspect that a large number of communities all over the country will seek to follow St Ives, especially where local youngsters are being forced to move away due to the unaffordability of local housing stock’.
“St Minver parish, which includes the holiday hotspots of Rock and Polzeath, has been waiting for the outcome of the St Ives legal challenge and now hopes to press ahead with its own referendum next spring.
“And there are areas in the Lake District that have been watching the St Ives case with interest because of the concentration of second homes in some of their communities.
“Whatever the outcome of these local referenda, it will always be a question of trying to strike the right balance between maintaining a healthy and vibrant visitor economy and ensuring that local people still have the opportunity to own a home in their local community.”