Hawl i fyw yn lleol: The second home crisis in Wales

Image: Beata Mitręga via Unsplash.

There is no wonder so many people want to holiday in Wales. The 870 miles of coastline and 1,500 square miles of national parkland (covering 20% of the country’s land mass) offered an escape for many throughout the national lockdowns that halted holidays abroad.

It may come as no surprise, then, that, according to new research, Wales is the most popular location in the UK among second home buyers, “accounting for 12.2% of sales”. Wales is home to 24,200 second homes – “or 1.8% of its total housing stock” – with coastal areas such as Pembrokeshire experiencing particularly high levels of second-home ownership. Furthermore, recent evidence highlights that almost half of homes sold in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, in Gwynedd, were sold to buyers “not planning to use it as their main residence”.

Experts suspect that numbers may only increase, as British holidaymakers have witnessed the value of stay-cations away from traditional locations such as Cornwall. Carol Peett, managing director of West Wales Property Finders, says the market has “gone completely berserk here”, remarking that “Wales has everything Cornwall offers”, while being more affordable and less busy.

While on first glance, the flocking of visitors to Welsh rural and coastal regions may seem a positive, especially in terms of tourist and seasonal trade. However, such statistics are considered “devastating” by Mabon ap Gwynfor, the Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd (MS) for the region, a position that represents the views of many.

Concern is mounting over the sustainability of Welsh language communities in rural and coastal Wales with the high number of empty homes, leaving locals little chance to live in their own hometowns.

Mabon ap Gwynfor MS argues that the second home crisis in Wales will “leave in its wake a lost generation of young people forced to leave their square mile due to be priced out of the area in which they were born and raised”.

Wales has witnessed the highest increase on house prices in the United Kingdom during the pandemic, with research by Halifax showing the average deposit rose by £6,634 (or 25% on the previous year).

Young people on the island of Anglesey have witnessed a 16% rise in house prices in the last year, and whilst the blame for this cannot be solely pinned on second-home buyers, their presence certainly does not make things easier.

Virginia Crosbie, Conservative MP for Anglesey, says the second-home problem certainly “is a crisis”. She reports that her young constituents tell her they are struggling to find the money to afford the homes in their area, preventing them from living locally and staying within their Welsh language communities.

The Welsh Government have recently announced their plan to address the evolving second-home crisis. The three-pronged approach will:

1.    Address the affordability and availability of housing;

2.   Introduce a statutory registration scheme for holiday accommodation;   and

3.   Use national and local taxation systems to ensure second home-owners  make a fair an effective contribute to the communities in which they buy.

The government have also proposed other supporting actions, such as a Welsh Language Community Housing Plan, “to protect the particular interests of Welsh language communities”.

Previous action has already been taken, with Wales being the first UK nation “to give local authorities the power to charge 100% council tax increase on second homes”.

“We will work unstintingly to stabilise the number of second homes and, through the actions we and our partners take, to reduce them over time in areas where there are concerns,” Climate Change and Welsh Language minister Julie James and Jeremy Miles said.

However, hundreds gathered at Llyn Celyn in Gwynedd - the region with the highest number of second homes, accounting for 20% of all second home in Wales – to protest after many found the Welsh Government’s recently unveiled plans to tackle the crisis, “vague” and unambitious”.

Mabli Siriol, chairwoman of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (a Welsh language campaign group) argued that the proposals merely offered “more consultations [and] more pilot projects – that will take years to make a difference which is time we can’t afford to waste”.

Plaid Cymru suggest that much more direct action needs to be taken, such as allowing councils to impose caps on the number of second homes, closing the loophole that allows homeowners to register their second homes as businesses to avoid paying the council tax premium and trebling the Land Transaction Tax on the purchase of second properties.

Some, however, view this approach towards second-home ownership as “anti-visitor” and, therefore, “anti-tourist”. The Chief Executive of North Wales Tourism, Jim Jones, argues that the messaging about ‘selfish’ second home-owners will become a problem for the tourism sector. Furthermore, some consider the drive to maintain Welsh language communities over welcoming visitors exclusionary and insular.

However, the hostility of Welsh-speaking locals is a trope often perpetuated by English visitors who struggle to believe that Welsh people may actually speak their own language in their own country. The myth of pubs filled with English-speaking Welsh people reverting back to Cymraeg when an English visitor makes an entrance are prevalent and certainly fabricated.

Although, is there any wonder why locals may be hostile to those pricing their own children out of the housing market and diluting the presence of one oldest living languages in Europe?

NB: Hawl i fyw yn lleol - The right to live locally