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'No limit' on second homes

A law limiting the purchase of second homes, as discussed in the UK, is 'unlikely to be introduced in France'.

By Oliver Rowland

A law limiting the purchase of second homes, like that under discussion in Britain, is unlikely to be introduced in France. The government says France values second home ownership too much.

An inquiry is to urge British PM Gordon Brown to trial a scheme where those wanting to buy second homes must seek a ‘change of use’ permission from the local council.

This is intended to reduce second home ownership, accused of leaving popular villages half-empty for much of the year.

A UK government spokesman said it was too soon to speculate on the precise content of the inquiry’s report or its implications, such as whether someone selling their house in the UK to buy a main residence in France and a second home in the UK would be affected.

However, a French housing ministry spokeswoman said the very different situations in France and the UK, including the UK’s greater housing shortage, meant the French government would not introduce such a scheme.

The spokeswoman said: “France is not opposed to the development of second homes, which are all part of a current trend of multiple residency.

“They contribute to activity in rural districts, which have a low population and where agriculture is often declining, and they help their evolution.

“They include a lot of British people making the most of the French countryside.”

CEO of estate agents Riviera Home Finders Richard Green said: “France will benefit from this because it will transform a lot of people who were, perhaps only mildly thinking about getting away from the ‘misery’ of Britain and its poor weather, into zealots about buying, not just a second home here, but a permanent one perhaps.”

Gers-based Eric Sendra, of, who helps Britons find French homes, said: “In France where you see villages that are half empty it's because nobody wants to buy houses, and after 10 years they will be uninhabitable.

“Surely even someone who only lives there three times a year is better than no one?

“In rural areas the young are moving out because there is no work. Many villages are too remote for someone to live there and commute to a job in a city.”

Mr Sendra said while there was talk of a “housing crisis”, this was centred on cities and a few trendy areas.

“I have six-bedroom, 200m2 houses with a garden going for €120,000 in Gers villages - which are hard to sell,” he said.

Estate agent Stéphane Rouveyrol, of Maxwell Properties in Bordeaux, said: “It would be a shame if a policy like the UK’s one came in. Considering the low morale of most

French households over purchasing power, limiting their right to buy would be discouraging. “People who buy second homes bring new life to little villages and bring money to local businesses."

Jannick Martin, of housing crisis campaign body Droit au Logement, in Toulouse, said Britain had more “ambitious” housing policies than France and he did not expect to see a proposal like the UK’s.

However he said he did not support second home ownership while others had no home at all.

He added rural areas were not always cheap. People buying second homes had contributed to high prices in some popular spots.

“For example, prices are low in the Creuse, where there's not much to do, but in the Luberon and Dordogne they have shot up and locals can't afford to stay,” he said.

This claim that locals are pushed out is among concerns being raised by the UK inquiry.

It is also said UK second homes contribute to schools closing and shops struggling because their trade becomes seasonal.

Matthew Taylor (pictured), the Liberal Democrat MP leading the inquiry which will report in July, has suggested his ideas could be piloted in areas most affected before going nation-wide.

Legal changes could be made through amendments to the government's planning bill.

The French government estimates there are 25 million principal residences, three million secondary ones and two million empty ones in France. About 8% of second homes are owned by foreign tax residents - of which a quarter are Britons (a third in rural areas). These are the most recent government figures available and date to 2003.

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