More affordable housing ‘should be built in national parks’

Carl Lis OBE, chair of National Parks England, warns young people being priced out of scenic areas

The view across Grasmere and Easedale

More affordable housing should be built in England’s national parks to help communities excluded by spiralling prices driven by second homes, the new chair for the authorities has said.

Carl Lis OBE, chair of National Parks England, has warned that young people and national parks staff are being forced out of some of the most scenic parts of the country by high prices, driven in part by exclusive holiday homes.

In an interview with the Guardian, Lis said the government should also take action on “land banking” by developers in protected areas such as the Lake District, the South Downs and the Peak District, so-called because property speculators hoard plots with planning permission for years to maximise profits.

Lis, who is also chair of the Yorkshire Dales authority, said more should be done to attract people from a range of backgrounds to England’s most beautiful areas after a government-commissioned report warned visitors to parks are “exclusive, mainly white, mainly middle‑class club”.

Lis told the Guardian: “The simple fact is that we have a problem in the Dales, as do an awful lot of national parks, that an awful lot of houses are now second homes. Some of them [the owners] are brilliant and come every weekend. They’re a major part of our economy, our local shops, local pubs. But there are some that are only occupied twice a year perhaps.

“When you couple that with the fact that young people can’t afford to live in the park at my authority in the dales … our employees that work with us can’t afford to live in the national park … The obvious solution is to build more affordable homes.”

House prices in some English national parks are more than double the regional average, according to research by Hamptons International. The average house price in the New Forest is £622,670 in the past year, often pricing out young families and the park workers.

Lis was behind a proposal in the Yorkshire Dales to increase tax on second homes fivefold, although it was opposed by the local district council.

Lis said more needed to be done to aid the development of genuinely affordable housing in national parks, calling on the government to stop property developers land banking and ensure homes get built once planning permission is given.

“In terms of houses, I think what is important is the situation as far as developers just being able to hang on to land with planning for permission as long as they can,” he added.

Last year, a government-commissioned report led by the writer Julian Glover into the future of Britain’s protected landscapes, criticised national parks for not doing enough to make people welcome. Lis said parks would do more to attract a wider range of visitors.

“It’s part of our overall strategy to be open for everyone. People think you only get middle-class, white people [in the parks]. We’ve recently got data that suggests we’re improving in that area and our challenge is to try and improve the number of BAME people we have coming round,” he said.

“We need to be attractive to every single part of our population. The national parks are the breathing spaces where people can benefit from peace and tranquility. The pure beauty of landscapes. It’s incumbent on us, as our second purpose of the authority, that we encourage all people to come and visit.”

Despite the aim of attracting a more diverse array of visitors, the head of the Lake District national park authority was accused of using the issue to push through commercial development schemes which could jeopardise its Unesco world heritage status.

Earlier this month, plans to moor holiday boats on the shores of Grasmere in the Lake District national park were withdrawn after thousands of protesters planned to oppose the proposals. The park is also facing a judicial review over its refusal to ban 4x4s and motorbikes amid concerns it was ruining the tranquility of the area.

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