AN increase in council tax for owners of second homes could lead to more affordable housing initiatives in the Craven area.

Craven District Council has decided to reduce the council tax discount offered to owners of second homes from 50 per cent to 10 per cent - the minimum allowed by new Government legislation.

Coun Peter Walbank said: "Anyone who can afford to have a second home can afford to pay full council tax."

Coun David Ireton added: "The only disappointing point is that we have to give them 10 per cent."

In Craven there is a total of 612 dwellings currently classed as second homes for council tax purposes. The decision to reduce the discounts will produce an estimated additional income of almost £270,000.

Craven's share will be about £30,000 a year, with the rest going to the other precepting bodies, such as North Yorkshire County Council and the Police Authority.

However, the county council has agreed that 80 per cent of its additional revenue should be returned to the district and used for such things as affordable housing and improvements in local services.

"I do hope that the county does redirect the money back into Craven where this money was raised," added Coun Ireton. "Let's do some good with it."

But Coun Walbank expressed his anger that not all of the additional revenue would be returned to the area. "I do object to this money going to the police. It should go towards helping the local people," he declared.

The new legislation also means that Craven Council can remove the 50 per cent discount currently offered to owners of unoccupied or substantially unfurnished property.

From April 1, these houses will no longer receive any discount and will have to pay full council tax.

The additional income will go to local authorities in the first year, but after that the Government proposes utilising it to reflect grant settlements. The financial impact of this has not yet been calculated.

Speaking after the meeting, council leader Carl Lis explained: "We have been campaigning for changes to the council tax discount on second homes for years and the changes are very welcome.

"One of the positive outcomes that will result from our decision to reduce council tax discounts on second homes is that it will release additional revenue to be spent on affordable housing.

"It gives the youth of Craven renewed hope and encouragement to remain living and working in their local area.

"We also feel that levying full council tax on long-term empty homes will provide an incentive to owners to improve them and bring them back in to use, or alternatively to sell them to another party to undertake improvements.

"Either way, this will enhance the stock of accommodation throughout the district and will again ease the pressures relating to the lack of affordable housing."

Councillor Lis stressed that those people living in accommodation provided by their employer - for example publicans - will not lose the 50 per cent discount on their second homes.