The ups and downs of second-home tax breaks - from Burnham Market to Southwold

The sheer volume of second homes across Norfolk and Suffolk has long been a bone of contention - but do full-time residents resent their fair-weather neighbours?

It certainly seems that the residents of South Hams in Devon have had enough of wealthy out-of-towners and celebrities moving in for the summer. Councillors in the southern town - the UKs most popular resort for holiday homes - are calling for changes to the tax laws that allow second-home owners to pay less council tax.

There are an estimated 250,000 second-home owners in Britain and the majority receive the mandatory 10pc discount on their holiday property's council tax. With some district councils still allowing a 50pc discount, pressure on Eric Pickles to scrap the discount altogether is mounting.

But if the councillors in South Hams claim getting rid of the discount is a 'no-brainer', full-time residents of East Anglia appear to be a little more forgiving.

Burnham Market and Wells in north Norfolk, along with Southwold and Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, remain amongst the region's most popular spots for second homes.

More than two in five (40.7pc) properties in the west Norfolk village of Brancaster are second homes, according to a report published by estate agent Knight Frank last month. The study, ranking the UK's most popular holiday home locations, placed Burnham Market – often described as Norfolk's Chelsea-on-Sea, 16th on the list with 31.6pc of its properties being second homes.

In Walberswick, 107 of the 315 village houses (34pc) are second homes and further down the coast in Aldeburgh, 561 of the 1,958 houses (28.7pc) are only lived in for a few weeks a year.

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Many agree that holiday homes drive property prices up, push local buyers out of the market and can turn picturesque villages into ghost-towns out of season. But they also welcome long-term investment in their area.

In 2006, the Borough Council of Kings Lynn and West Norfolk reduced its second-home council tax discount from 50pc to 10pc.

Council leader Nick Daubney said that, in light of public feeling and the bite of recession it seemed 'the right thing to do'.

He said: 'We have a few villages across west Norfolk where there are a lot of second homes. In some of them, it's quite likely that more than 40 per cent are second homes. Up until a few years ago it was having a big impact.

'Reducing the discount to the minimum was welcomed by local people. And rather than the money we get from second homes going into revenue accounts we're using it to mitigate circumstances – we use it to improve local infrastructure and balance out any problems that come with holiday homes.

'There are positives and negatives about having so many second homes. On the one hand we always welcome people investing in the area – tourism is obviously a major boost for local trade, but the villages are quiet out of season and yes, property prices are pushed up.'

Suffolk businesswoman Kerry Wilmot, who runs Southwold Town Garage, said it is a shame first-time buyers are priced out of buying in their home towns, but second-home owners bring a wealth of merits.

'Being popular with second-home owners isn't a bad thing,' said Ms Wilmot, who lives in Reydon. 'They shop locally, support local amenities, eat in local restaurants and go to the pubs. They help keep revenue in the town and they bring their friends with them. It would be nice to see more affordable housing in the area, but there is nothing wrong with second-home owners.'

Debate over second-home tax breaks is nothing new: in 2010 it was suggested holiday home rates should be doubled. The idea soon fell by the wayside, but with backlash against holiday home owners building momentum in the south, it makes you wonder how much longer fair-weather residents will be welcome in East Anglia.

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