Holiday homes have ‘sapped the soul’ from beautiful seaside village

“Now we’ve got remote owners who have no connections who just see it as a business opportunity. It makes a difference when you have got a transient people coming through. Obviously people enjoy it but it’s sapped the soul out of the village.”

Charles Gray

The hot topic of second home ownership and holiday properties have long been a talking point in parts of North Wales.

In recent years, frustrations over the issue have been most keenly felt in north west Wales – a problem which many have argued has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Over the past couple of years, many prospective home buyers saw properties ripped from their grasp as house hunters from outside these areas – aided in large by a new found flexibility of working from home – started looking for properties in these picturesque and largely rural heartlands.

Last year, members of campaign group Hawl i Fyw Adra (Right to Live Locally) marched 17 miles from Nefyn to Caernarfon (Gwynedd’s administrative centre) to protest the lack of action over the issue, a visible display of the strength and depth of feeling about the problem in these communities.

But the issue surrounding second homes and holiday lets – and more importantly, the effect they have on communities – are not unique to North Wales.

Say hello to Staithes – a village in North Yorkshire that has long been a popular tourist spot.

It is renowned for its picturesque beauty and is a source of great pride to its residents.

But that beauty has not gone unnoticed by people looking for a slower pace of life – or even an investment opportunity – and recent years have seen frustrations grow.

The coastal village near the famous town of Whitby has seen a wave of shrewd-minded outsiders buying up seafront cottages seemingly to capitalise on increasing visitor numbers.

Only 20 per cent of homes are now understood to be owned by locals and the sparsity of familiar faces has made it feel as though it has lost something integral for those who call it home.

Staithes was once one of the region’s largest fishing ports and is perhaps best known for the 19th century Staithes Group of painters.

On a visit to the village, YorkshireLive found residents bemoaning the “faceless” nature of those who purchase properties to let as holiday homes, claiming it is taking places away from young people who want to make a home there.

The growing number of visitors to the village’s historic streets – particularly during the last two years – has felt “overwhelming” for many and, while it has its benefits, has brought various parking problems.

One long-term resident of Staithes living on the north side of the village said that there were now an “awful lot of holiday cottages” and that a count of the number of people who actually lived in the bottom end of the village totalled just 50.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “There’s always been a holiday industry and it’s kept people going but it tended to be people with cottages who would regularly come and stay so they would be part of the village.

“Now we’ve got remote owners who have no connections who just see it as a business opportunity. It makes a difference when you have got a transient people coming through. Obviously people enjoy it but it’s sapped the soul out of the village.”

She added: “I think it’s the same in most villages. Particularly after Covid when people have made their escape from the cities and seen the benefit of being in places like this.

“There’s no way I could complain about living here because it’s so beautiful and people are more than welcome to come but it does have an impact on how you live. The atmosphere has changed.”

Further up the steep road live the Harrisons, made up of husband and wife Colin and Marina, their son Alex and dog Rory. The family owns a further two holiday cottages in the village that they rent out but are keenly aware of the problems the lack of residential housing brings.

Mr Harrison, who grew up in Staithes, said: “I’ve seen it go in phases over the years when it’s been very popular and then you can’t fill a house for love nor money. At the moment it’s in high demand.

“I think people have realised how important quality of life is to factor in when deciding where to live. Here I can work from home and take the dog out along the coast on my break.”

But, he continued: “To me there’s not a community like there used to be. Growing up as a child everyone was related in some way and all the old ladies wore the Staithes bonnets and fishing was still a business.

“There was a steelworks as well so you had workers from there. That’s certainly changed.” He added he felt a bit of a “hypocrite” for complaining while owning two holiday cottages, which he said he was making a good amount of money from.

Another issue around the village’s narrow roads is parking, with visitors often pulling up in front of homes despite warning signs. Mrs Harrison said: “You get some people being cheeky and saying that they were told to come this way when there’s about five signs on the way down saying you can’t.

“The last couple of years so many people have been coming to stay that there aren’t enough spaces. These issues aren’t specific to Staithes or the Yorkshire Coast, though. We watch programmes about Cornwall and Scotland and Norfolk and it’s the same there too.”

The enthusiasm for living in Staithes is not necessarily shared by the younger generation, though, according to 17-year-old Alex, who said life can get pretty boring due to the lack of activities. But he and his dad are both members of the local lifeboat organisation and he admitted that, in time, he may be drawn back to the village.

The sense of a lack of community was not a universal opinion. Across the bridge and in the centre of Staithes is Dotty’s Cafe, which features regular performances and community events organised by owner Trudy Ward.

Trudy Ward outside Dotty's Tearoom in Staithes, North Yorkshire

Trudy Ward outside Dotty’s Tearoom in Staithes, North Yorkshire (Image: Dotty’s tea room)

In between serving people in the packed out venue, Ms Ward said that the events had been “fantastic” for business. She also raised the issue that some of the houses were coming up for sale as people get older and find it harder to walk up and down the steep bank into the village.

It is at the top end of the village – away from the throng of tourists – that many permanent residents live. Shop owners near the public car park also flagged the housing and parking issues.

Louise Cole, who used to work in the information centre but now runs a gift shop, said: “After the lockdown it just went ballistic and parking was a massive issue. Some of them got quite abusive and were effing and blinding.

“I had tickets thrown at me. When people realise it’s nothing to do with us they tend to calm down and apologise.”

On the housing issue, Ms Cole said: “It’s a shame really. We have got two kids but prices are going up and houses get sold straight away. The next generation can’t move in to their own village.”

Parking is monitored by the local council and people can either pay by cash or using contactless. However, the difficulty in getting an internet signal can often cause problems.

Shop owner Dawn Coultas said: “You get about 20 people coming in to ask about parking every day. There’s a private parking area that only allows people to stay for 10 minutes and that often gets people.”

Retiree David Linley owns a cottage near the seafront, which he bought during lockdown to spend half his time. He said he was aware of the housing issues but summed up why the place was so magical to him and countless others: “I love it here. I like the people and I find it quiet. It’s a very happy place.”

River Otter pollution tests begin as ‘citizen science’ project gets under way

A ‘citizen science’ project to assess the level of pollution in the River Otter is about to get under way. 

person Philippa

Armed with water quality testing kits, the Tipton St John environmental group Eager Beavers will start regularly monitoring different sections of the river, using transparent turbity tubes that show the level of sediment present in the water.  

The county councillor for the Otter Valley, Jess Bailey, contributed from her Locality Budget to pay for the testing kits, which arrived this week. 

The group’s co-founder Lisette Johnston said: “I am going to be testing the Metcombe brook outside of my house, so this is one of the tests we perform.  

“We also look at the temperature, total dissolved solids and phosphate levels.  

“The important thing is to test in the same places on a regular basis and monitor levels of pollution, signs of wildlife and invasive species.” 

River pollution can come from fertiliser and pesticides in agriculture and run-off from roads, as well as sewage discharges. The tests will enable the group to establish what kind of pollution is present, and its likely source. 

If the tests reveal serious contamination, the group will take their findings to South West Water and possibly the Environment Agency. 

Meanwhile, the Eager Beavers have been accepted as ambassadors for the East Devon Area of Natural Beauty, and are likely to become involved with a Parish Nature Recovery Project being trialled in Harpford and Newton Poppleford. The project will mainly focus on river corridor and hedgerow management. 

They have just finished a Recycle and Raise initiative, in which plastic waste is collected and sent to a reprocessing centre in Exeter to be made into items such as garden furniture and fence posts. The money raised is donated to MIND and Dartmoor Zoo. 

Lisette added: “We have received a landmark tree from the Devon Wildlife Trust to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which will be planted in June. In the meantime, we have been clearing verges in Tipton in readiness for planting wildflowers and seeds for the bees and pollinators.” 

The Eager Beavers are also continuing their regular litter picks in Tipton St John, with the next taking place this Sunday, March 6. Lisette will be offering free seeds to people who come along and help. Litter picks and rubbish clearing have been carried out lately in the area; a few weeks ago they removed a tarpaulin from the river Otter at Salston. 


Controversy over parking fees

Parking fees to double to £2 per hour at 21 East Devon car parks

Philippa Davies & Joe Ives, Exmouth Journal

Fees at 21 of East Devon’s car parks are to double to £2 per hour, despite strong opposition from businesses, Conservative councillors and MP, Simon Jupp.

East Devon District Council has approved a budget that included the price increase in 21 seaside town car parks and a rise to £1.50 per hour in six others.

From April the £2 fee will be introduced in a number of car parks, including Exmouth’s Imperial Road short stay, Imperial Road Recreation Ground long stay, Queen’s Drive, Foxholes, Queen’s Drive Echelon, Camperdown Terrace and Beach Gardens, as well as Budleigh’s Lime Kiln, Rolle Mews.

A rise from £1 to £1.50 will be introduced at six other EDDC car parks: Exmouth’s London Hotel,

Honiton’s Lace Walk, King Street and New Street North and South, and Seaton’s Orchard Road. The budget was agreed at the full council meeting on Wednesday, February 23, with 29 votes in favour, 12 against.

In a column in this newspaper earlier this month, East Devon MP Simon Jupp said: “I have heard from businesses who fear shoppers will drive to out-of-town supermarkets or shop online even more, with visitors choosing to go elsewhere.”

At the end of last week, two petitions against the parking fee increases across East Devon gathered around 1,800 signatures; one organised by the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, the other by Sidmouth resident Mike Goodman.

The chamber’s vice-chair, Sally Mynard, addressed a virtual meeting of the council on Monday, February 21.

She said: “It is obvious this will significantly impact trade in our towns which are struggling to recover from Covid, and which are under long-term pressures from the internet and out of town competition. We feel the proposal has not been thought through and has not allowed consultation. “There has been no impact assessment, and little concern for the economic health of our communities and the businesses they support. It looks like a panic measure: lack of evidence, lack of consultation, lack of proper debate and discussion.”

The chair of Sidmouth Town Council, Ian Barlow, also spoke at that meeting, describing the increase as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘a gamble’.

He said: “I think you are risking an awful lot for possibly a gain, but you do not know that, and certainly from previous experience you will not gain from it.”

Speaking after the meeting on Wednesday where the budget was voted through, the leader of East Devon District council Paul Arnott said: “I think that the majority of councillors are very disappointed that the Conservatives sought to weaken the budget by opposing it. Fortunately, they lost very clearly.”

Concerns new floodplain will be ‘magnet’ for paddleboarders

Concerns have been raised that the floodplain created by the Lower Otter Restoration Project will become a ‘magnet’ for paddleboards and canoes, and that these will disturb wildlife.

Philippa Davies, Exmouth Journal:

The Otter Valley Association supports the project but thinks more should be done to make sure birds and other wildlife are protected when the scheme is finished next year.

The project will allow the lower valley to become tidal twice a day, recreating an estuary like the one that existed there 200 years ago. It will comprise approximately 55 hectares of mudflat and saltmarsh, providing a new wildlife reserve of international conservation value.

The Otter Valley Association thinks, in view of this, byelaws should be drawn up to prevent boat users accessing the estuary from the sea, which they currently have a right to do.

Chair, Bob Wiltshire, said: “During the summer months it is possible to hire paddle boards and kayaks at the end of the beach. “Although the people hiring these craft are advised not to launch into the river from the back of the beach, some do so. “We are particularly concerned that when this project is completed, it will act as a magnet. “I have written to EDDC (East Devon District Council) to ask if byelaws can be written to prohibit this taking place.

“Everybody I have spoken to has expressed their concern and wants it to be well known in the public domain.”

However, Clinton Devon Estates, which is managing the project, is hoping byelaws will not be necessary.

Head of wildlife and conservation, Dr Sam Bridgewater, said there had been discussions with EDDC on the issue, and byelaws are not being ruled out.

But he would prefer to take a less authoritarian approach, allowing people to enjoy the estuary while steering them away from sensitive wildlife habitats. He said visitor access could be managed through the design of pathways, the use of natural barriers such as hedgerows, and through signage.

There are also plans to have a ranger on site to keep an eye on visitors and wildlife.

The Otter Valley Restoration Project is due for completion in the spring of 2023.