Scotland’s Highland council has introduced a scheme to reduce the number of properties used as second homes and holiday lets. It’s not the first one to try. Will it work?
“Not only do you feel that you’re being priced out of the community, but you feel that the community you’ve been brought up in, the identity of it – the Welsh speaking identity of it – is being swept away.”Rhys Tudur, Channel 4
This is Rhys Tudur. He’s a solicitor and campaigner.
And last year, he joined thousands of Welsh language activists calling for a cap on the number of people buying second homes in the country.
“…no more second homes. The emphasis is on the, you know, no more second homes…”Rhys Tudur, Channel 4
In parts of Wales, particularly seaside towns in the north, nearly half of the houses are someone’s second home.
Often these properties are owned by holidaymakers, who only spend time there during the summer months. The rest of the time they’re empty. Or, they’re rented out on websites like Airbnb.
Under the slogan “Wales is not for sale”, Rhys Tudur and his fellow protestors said this is damaging the local community, making homes unaffordable for locals, and turning Wales’s most beautiful spots into ghost towns.
“If the percentage of a living community goes under a certain threshold, it can’t sustain itself. It’s the same with the Welsh language; once it goes under a certain threshold, it won’t be a living language, which is spoken daily on the streets, anymore.”Rhys Tudur, Channel 4
Frustrations about people owning second homes aren’t new.
“We cannot allow this to continue and Cymdeithas yr Iaith will oppose this auction, which is directed towards those risk to buy holiday home.”Channel 4
Notoriously, the Welsh nationalist group Meibion Glyndwr set fire to 228 English-owned homes in Powys between 1979 and 1994.
And this debate isn’t just happening in Wales.
Popular holiday destinations in Cornwall, the Scottish Highlands, Devon and Norfolk have all seen decades of local tensions around this issue.
“We’re not just bartenders or ice cream servers or lifeguards, or, you know, retail workers. We’re people who live here and we deserve to be able to buy and rent.”Bella Smith, ITV News
Covid, coupled with a stamp duty tax break, means even more people have been buying second homes.
In the first eight months of 2021, second home purchases outside London went up by 83 per cent compared to the five-year average.
This means house prices are shooting up.
In St Ives, one of Cornwall’s most picturesque towns, the average house price is up by £220,000 compared to 2016.
Lack of accommodation for workers is also leaving businesses struggling to recruit – a problem that some say has been made worse by Brexit.
All of this has left locals frustrated – and the government scrambling for solutions.
“If we don’t look after the local people and the people that work here, then we’re not gonna have the staff to facilitate all these tourists coming up. So we just… it’s all going to fall down.”Cornwall resident speak to Channel 4
Recently, Scotland’s Highland Council launched a new scheme to tackle second home ownership.
It will buy properties worth up to £180,000, potentially saving sellers thousands of pounds in estate agent fees because they’ll be valued by the council or an outside professional.
The idea is to encourage people to sell their homes back to the community, instead of letting them out on Airbnb.
“Tonight, Airbnb has revealed to us the scale of its business on Skye. Last year, 550 listings on an island of under 5,000 households, according to the last census. That’s roughly one Airbnb for every eight homes.”Channel 4
The council scheme has attracted interest from 130 sellers across the Highlands since January, with 40 properties already sold.
But with job vacancies at an all-time high in Skye, locals worry that the solution doesn’t go far enough to curb the housing crisis.
Schemes like the one in the Scottish Highlands aren’t new.
In 2016, the Cornish town of St Ives introduced a “principal-residence policy”, known as H2, which banned the sale of new houses to people who don’t plan to use them as their main home.
And other areas followed suit.
Presenter 1: “One town is fighting back against the invasion of second home owners, Diana. This is Whitby.”
Presenter 2: “That’s right. Whitby is for life, not just for summer.”GB News
But six years on, Cornish locals say the policy hasn’t gone far enough. H2 didn’t ban people from turning existing homes into holiday lets, meaning the town is still overrun by tourists.
“We are in a housing crisis. This isn’t just a few people feeling hard done by, this is a lot of people who are potentially in a very precarious situation.”BBC News
A long-term solution might be to build more affordable housing… but that’s not as easy as it sounds.
A shortage of contractors means construction costs are surging. In just 18 months, the cost of building a home has increased by £55,000 in parts of West Scotland.
And there are other obstacles too, like land availability and planning restrictions.
Ultimately campaigners want Westminster to change the law to make it easier to limit second home ownership, but that feels a long way off…
Until then, local communities will need to find a way to manage the challenges and opportunities that come with being a popular holiday destination.
Today’s episode was written and mixed by Patricia Clarke.