Holiday rental boom creates ghost towns

Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes & South Devon and Judy Pearce, leader of South Hams district council are the authors of Friday’s “Thunderer” column in  the Times.

Where do Neil Parish and Simon Jupp stand on this? – Owl

Anthony Mangnall, Judy Pearce

South Devon is home to some of the most extraordinary views, landscapes and coastlines. As representatives at both a local and national level we are only too aware of the privilege that we have in speaking up for such a unique part of the country.

While our businesses, tourism and hospitality industries were put on hold during the worst of the pandemic, our previously deserted beaches are now packed, our high streets bustle with residents and tourists alike. As a result our local economy is booming. While this is welcome, it comes at a cost.

Such are the demands from the visitor economy that thousands of homes are being moved from long-term rentals to Airbnb lets. Many who live and work in the area are being issued with eviction notices so landlords can capitalise on the boom in holiday rentals. Only 16 properties are available for long-term rent in the district council area of South Hams, with a population of 86,000.

Wit and wisdom from our award-winning stable of columnists and guest writers, including Caitlin Moran, Matthew Parris, Rod Liddle and Dominic Lawson.

For years there has been a balance between holiday rentals and primary residences. That balance saw schools, hospitals and lifeboat stations (to name a few) catered to by locals. This is often no longer the case as all these and many other businesses struggle to find the staff they need. Towns and villages which are thronged in the summer are ghostly quiet in winter.

At a local and national level more needs to be done to return that balance between holiday homes and primary residences. First, we must introduce legislation to close the loophole that allows second homes, advertised as holiday rentals, to avoid council tax by registering for business rates and getting small business rate relief. Every holiday home puts pressure on local services and they must pay their share. We have campaigned vociferously for this change in the law and welcome the chancellor’s announcement earlier this year that he will do so but it cannot come soon enough.

Second, a nationwide survey should be conducted to gauge the impact of Airbnb-type rentals. This could include lost tax receipts and the effect on long-term rental markets in rural and urban areas.

Third, newbuilds must be built with local affordability targets in mind, including section 106 legal agreements that can be registered against the property title to ensure they are primary residences in perpetuity. We have already achieved this in Salcombe and look set to do so elsewhere in south Devon.

The visitor economy is hugely important to this area. We welcome it, but Devon and the southwest must have functioning communities that offer more than just a seasonal visitor economy.