A DALES homeowners group is putting fresh pressure on councils to dismiss plans for a huge council tax hike on second homes, claiming it could lose the authorities millions of pounds.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is considering measures to reverse the decline of young people in the area - including a possible five-fold hike in council tax on second homes.

The plans - which would have to be agreed by the eight councils involved in the park - were seen by the YDNPA as a way of releasing some of the 1,400-plus second homes in the Dales to full-time families, thereby boosting local amenities and services.

However the plans have not been universally popular and the Dales Home Owners Action Group (DHOAG) formed to oppose them.

Its members say that second home owners do contribute to the local economy - particularly by employing Dales tradesmen to work on their properties - and they have used Freedom of Information requests to obtain figures showing what councils could lose if the system is implemented.

DHOAG members point out that whilst second home owners already pay full council tax, very few holiday lets pay anything at all.

This is because a property is subject to business rates, and exempt from council tax, if it is made available to let for at least 140-days a year for short-stay guests on a commercial basis.

Only 40 of the 578 holiday lets currently operating in Richmondshire qualify to pay business rates, with no estimate available for lost revenue. In the case of Craven district, only 105 of the 390 holiday lets pay any rates and the council’s own estimated net loss of revenue is £549,154 in a year.

The DHOAG says that the statistics show that if only half of the Dales’ 1,442 second home owners decide to make their properties available to let for over 140-days a year, the loss in public funds would run into many millions of pounds.

DHOAG has written to the Environment Secretary calling for him to examine if YDNPA has overstepped its remit as a conservation body with no tax-setting powers.

It has also obtained legal advice which could result in a challenge through the courts.

A group spokesman said: “Reputational and economic damage is already being done to the Dales by the very body which is supposed to be protecting its interests.

"It’s playing fast and loose with its unsubstantiated claims and painting a very distorted picture.

“Public comments made by its leaders, in the absence of any financial impact study, demonstrate that their collective starting point is prejudiced against second homeowners and brings into question how an objective decision can be reached.”

When the YDNPA announced the plans in December, its chairman Carl Lis said they demonstrated the authority was not prepared to "sit idly by" and watch the "slow decline" of Dales communities.

YDNPA member Yvonne Peacock, leader of Richmondshire District Council, also pledged her support for the plans, pointing out that the school in her village of Bainbridge has seen its pupil numbers reduce by two thirds in recent years.

She said: "One of the reasons for that is undoubtedly that local families are priced out of the housing market – and the growth in second homes has played a big part in that.

“It is so important that we keep our communities vibrant and unfortunately there are simply too many second homes. But the second homes proposal is only one part of the jigsaw and I hope people can see that.”

Later this month, February 27, Richmondshire will become the first council to discuss whether to open talks with the Government over raising council tax within the park’s boundaries.