Tory anger as second homes in holiday locations force out key workers

The pressure to “do something” about second homes continues to rise as the Sunday Times carries another article (split in the print edition into a shorter version and longer analysis) and an editorial on the subject.

Widespread ownership of second homes leaves Owl wondering if there will be anyone sufficiently lacking personal interest to devise a solution. An interesting example of conflict between local and Westminster agendas. – Owl

Helen Davies, Carol Lewis 

MPs in some of Britain’s most popular holiday locations are calling on the government to act urgently as they grapple with an unprecedented housing crisis.

Locals have been left homeless by soaring property prices and the staycation boom as landlords evict tenants to put the property on Airbnb and capitalise on the tourism boom.

In South Hams, an area of outstanding natural beauty in Devon with more than 5,000 second homes, Anthony Mangnall, the Conservative MP for Totnes, is preparing to declare a housing emergency by the autumn.

“There are just 19 properties you can rent long-term in the whole of South Hams on Rightmove, yet there are 300 advertised on Airbnb in Salcombe, another 300 in Kingsbridge, a similar number in Totnes. Yet we have hospital staff who can’t find anywhere to live, RNLI crew that can’t live in the town they serve. This is starting to become dangerous.”

Mangnall is one of several MPs including Steve Double and Derek Thomas also in the southwest, and Duncan Baker in North Norfolk, to call on the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, to introduce a range of measures to ease the housing crisis in key holiday spots from Cornwall to Cumbria. The Welsh government has also launched a consultation to address the issue of concerns over the number of second homes and holiday homes.

All say the pandemic has accelerated a problem which has been brewing for years fuelled by low interest rates, cheap mortgages, a stamp duty tax cut that is pushing their communities to breaking point.

Plans include regulation of Airbnb-style rentals; incentives for landlords to rent to local people; the building of more affordable homes; restrictions on the number of holiday and second homes; and the ability to impose council tax surcharges on second homes.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale in the Lake District launched a petition last Tuesday calling for planning law to be changed to stop family housing being turned into second homes and holiday lets.

“Homes now cost 11 times the average local income and I am now hearing stories of tenants being turfed out. It is awful. I’m calling it the Lakeland clearances. The market is utterly broken and if we don’t step in we will see entire populations move out,” he said.

In the first six months this year, 14,660 second homes were bought in Britain according to statistics from Countrywide, the largest estate agency chain in the UK, which is the highest number since 2009 when they began collecting data. In some areas of the Lake District, north Norfolk, Devon and Cornwall, up to 80 per cent of houses are thought to be holiday lets or second homes.

Cornwall looks beautiful with its spectacular sandy beaches, rugged coastal coves and rolling countryside dotted with villages. However, glance beyond the postcard-perfect views and there is a growing tide of discontent, despair and destitution.

Of the eight UK postcodes where house prices have risen by more than £100,000 in the past year alone, three are in Cornwall. Last week there was one available rental property in St Ives to be found on Rightmove but more than 300 homes in the seaside town were listed on Airbnb.

Houses are selling for millions of pounds — often double what they were two years ago despite a county average of £236,000, according to the Office for National Statistics — to buyers with seemingly limitless budgets. Estate agents are driving new Teslas, but key workers from cleaners to doctors are struggling to find somewhere to live. Some locals are camping just to get a roof over their head.

“The housing situation in Cornwall is the worst I have ever seen,” said Monique Collins, 55, who has worked with homeless people for more than 20 years. “The crisis is off the scale. We are seeing families facing absolute disaster. We’ve had people suddenly finding themselves evicted because their landlords want to put the property on Airbnb or they want to cash in on the crazy prices and sell. So many people are living in tents or vans — there is nowhere for them to go.”

Collins, who runs the Drop In and Share Centre, a charity in Newquay, said: “I took a call today from a woman who has two children. Her landlord has told her she has three months to leave because he wants to start Airbnb-ing the property. There are always people who are long-term homeless for many reasons. But what I’ve seen this year are working people, families, children, being made homeless on a daily basis.”

The issue is now so acute that the Bishop of Truro, the Right Rev Philip Mounstephen, spoke out last month on the “devastating” effect second homes are having on communities in Cornwall. Double, the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, is calling on the government to introduce an emergency amendment to the planning bill, due to come before parliament in the autumn, to help councils to control the number of second homes in their areas.

There are now an estimated 10,000 Airbnbs in Cornwall. “It has been a growing problem for some time but in the last 18 months has escalated so that it is now a crisis,” Double said. “Landlords who have been letting property for £800-£900 a month have now realised they can make £1,500 a week. If you can’t supply homes for residents then the system is failing. We have a real staff shortage this summer. I heard about a hotel in Newquay that struggled to find chefs. It hired two from London, but they had to withdraw after they couldn’t find places to live.”

About 30 miles along the Atlantic coast, Thomas, MP for St Ives, West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, is also campaigning to charge “twice or treble council tax and ring-fence that to subsidise local services.”

“The lack of availability of affordable secure homes is holding back Cornwall’s economy as people cannot take up the employment opportunities due to a lack of available housing. This problem also restricts our ability to attract public sector workers including dentists and planning officers, which seems ironic,” he said.

Doctors in Cornwall are struggling. Henry Coates, 26, is only a few days into his new posting as a junior doctor at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. He has spent the past month looking for a rental property, but a search radius of up to 30 miles has proved fruitless.

Across the UK, the number of new properties being listed for letting is down 14 per cent in 2021 compared with the 2017-19 average, according to analysis by the property portal Zoopla. In Cornwall, it is down 44 per cent.

Coates says almost all the new junior doctors joining the hospital this summer are facing a similar problem. “There is just nothing available to rent on a long-term basis. I think about 80 per cent of the new junior doctors who are starting work here this summer are in temporary accommodation. I didn’t think it would be as bad as it is. The greatest frustration is that there are actually enough houses down to support the population, but the problem is that the people who own them are not based here.”

Meanwhile, property prices soar with homes selling without even being seen. The tales of gazumping that were the talk of supper parties and ice-cream queues last year have been replaced with stories of evictions.

“Housing is all anyone talks about,” said Jessica Cecil-Wright, an artist, who was born and brought up in Cornwall “running wild and free on a farm with my sister where there were no rules”. Today she and her sister are back living at that farm, near Wadebridge in north Cornwall. Her sister is in a barn, and Cecil-Wright and her three children — Dora, 9, Zach, 8 and Ted, 6 — temporarily share the main house with her mother. “Prices for a three or four-bedroom house in the area were about £300,000 a year ago, now they are £450,000. Rentals are now £200-£300 more a month. I honestly don’t really know what I am going to do.”

A housebuilder, who did not want to be named, admits that property developers like himself are partly responsible for fuelling runaway prices but even he is a victim of it. Living in rented accommodation, he now can’t afford to buy. “We sold our house with the intention that we would rent until we found the ‘ideal’ property, not realising that the market was going to explode the way it has. I now find myself building really nice houses for other people that I can’t afford to buy myself.”

Despite saving for a deposit for more than a decade, Imogen Weatherly, 29, has given up hope. “All I want to do is build my life and be settled in the area that I grew up in,” said Weatherly, who works for Creative Kernow, running a project bringing cinema screenings to village halls. She has been looking in Camborne, one of the poorest towns in England. “Even here the houses I’ve been looking at are now £20,000-£40,000 more than they were six months ago. I can’t save any faster, nor can I suddenly double what I earn. Buying a house feels impossible now.”

Last year Princess Anne acknowledged there was a shortage of affordable houses in most rural areas when she guest edited Country Life magazine. She wrote: “One of my pleas … is for housing for local families that are priced out of the market; for young, single people who would like to stay and work in their home village or area; young families; and retired people who were born in the village and would like to return home.”

Cornwall council has announced plans to build hundreds of “pop-up” homes for those without a permanent home, including single cabins and static caravan-type homes that can house a family so people are not placed in hotels or B&Bs where they can be evicted at any moment.

“The council is very aware of the crisis,” said Olly Monk, Cornwall council’s portfolio holder for housing and planning, who said the changes in the housing market in the county this year had been “seismic”. In the longer term, he said, the council was talking to housing developers about buying as many new properties as they could.

“There’s a perfect storm at the moment in terms of supply and demand for housing and it’s a worrying time for lots of people,” he said.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We have introduced a series of measures to help mitigate the adverse effect large numbers of second homes can have on some areas, including higher rates of stamp duty for buyers of second homes.

“We’ve delivered more than 542,000 affordable homes since 2010 and are investing more than £12 billion in affordable housing over the next five years.”