‘Everyone wants a piece of Cornwall’: locals up in arms over second homes

Desperate residents in north Cornwall have described themselves as an “endangered species” and are calling for compulsory purchases of unoccupied second homes amid a deepening crisis in affordable housing.

Jonny Weeks www.theguardian.com 

The coastal village of St Agnes – located on what one estate agent has labelled the “platinum edge” of the UK – has witnessed a mass protest and hostile graffiti in recent weeks, as outrage has turned into activism.

Cath Navin (left) and Camilla Dixon, who run the protest group First Not Second Homes. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

Cath Navin, co-founder of protest group First Not Second Homes, said: “Last month, there were 111 Airbnbs in and around St Agnes, 96 of which were whole houses. If you looked for long-term rentals, the closest place was Portreath (seven miles away). There’s nothing locally for people to live in.”

The group has organised peaceful rallies around the county in recent months – the next is at nearby Porthtowan this Sunday. They are campaigning for the introduction of licences for second homes, new planning laws, and an end to “no-fault” evictions, which allow landlords to rapidly expel tenants without good reason.

“Ideally, I’d also like to see some retrospective action with compulsory purchases in places where communities are being eroded,” she said. “That’s quite radical, but those things have been introduced internationally so why not here?”

Co-founder Camilla Dixon adds: “Ultimately I want to see no second homes until everybody has a decent first home.”

Cornwall has 12,776 second homes and more than 11,000 holiday lets, while 21,817 people were on its housing register this week. Last year, the council installed emergency one-bed shelters for vulnerable people in Truro and Penzance. It has also placed people into bed and breakfast accommodation and static caravans.

Truro resident Samantha Quinn and her teenage daughter have been forced out of several rental homes in recent years because the properties have been sold. They have waited unsuccessfully on the housing register, lived in temporary holiday accommodation and moved into a friend’s house when there was no alternative.

“To say to your child, ‘I actually don’t have a home for you’, felt really rubbish – I felt like I had failed at life,” she said. “As a professional who works full-time in the charity sector and doesn’t have any credit history issues, it’s really weird to think that I was in that position.

“The council’s advice last time was, ‘you don’t have to leave your home until you’re evicted by a court’, but I worried that would affect our future prospects. I feel so relieved and lucky to have found a home again.”

Lifelong St Agnes resident Nicola Bunt lives in a one-bed wooden cabin in her landlady’s garden. Bunt runs a local cleaning business but refuses to clean holiday lets, even as she tries to save a deposit for a mortgage.

“My friends are here, my job is here and this will always be my home, so I really want to stay in St Agnes, but there’s no opportunity for me to buy here, it feels really out of reach,” she said. “Everyone wants a piece of Cornwall and they’re actually ruining what Cornwall is all about.”

So outraged was one local pensioner by the construction of another mansion in St Agnes that she defaced an unoccupied seafront property with the words “No more investment properties” and “Second homes owners give something back: rent or sell your empty houses to local people at a fair price”.

Speaking anonymously, she said: “When my husband and I bought our place here in 1998 it cost £80,000. We had really ordinary jobs and we could afford to buy here.

“Now, half of the properties nearby are holiday lets or second homes and young local people are competing for housing with millionaires. It makes me furious. We’re like an endangered species. This is not the platinum edge of the UK, this is people’s homes and communities.”

Graffiti painted onto the walls of a seafront property in Cornwall.

Graffiti painted on to the walls of a seafront property in Cornwall. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

Cllr Andrew George, formerly MP for St Ives, believes tax loopholes for property investors must be closed immediately.

“For years, the public purse has been used to subsidise second homes,” he said. “Thousands of second home owners avoid paying council tax (by qualifying as business premises) and then claim small business rates relief. That loophole cost Cornwall £17m per year before Covid.”

The national government also paid almost £170m in Covid grants to Cornish “holiday let business premises” during the pandemic, more than half of which went to owners who live outside the county.

“Rather than rewarding second home owners with public money, they should be making them pay a great deal more,” George said. “It’s not the politics of envy, it’s the politics of social justice.”

Exeter Priory area may be part of Exmouth

Leading politicians from Labour and the Conservatives have criticised plans to move the Priory ward out of Exeter’s parliamentary seat.

Now why might Simon Jupp be opposed to that? – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

As part of the proposals for a shake-up of England’s map for general elections, which aims to give each MP roughly the same number of voters, a new ‘Exmouth’ constituency would be created including the Priory ward.

However, speaking at a public hearing on the draft new boundaries last week, calls were instead made for Pinhoe to join the new seat and to keep Priory – which includes the RD&E Hospital and the Exeter Crematorium – part of the city’s constituency.

Simon Jupp, Conservative MP for the current East Devon seat, told the Boundary Commision hearing that he strongly objected to the current plan.

“The Priory ward is categorically part of Exeter city, with residents identifying themselves as living in Exeter.

“Living in the ward means you’re within walking distance of Exeter Quay and the cathedral … and are much more culturally inclined towards the city than the proposed Exmouth constituency, which will also still contain vast swathes of East Devon.

“Furthermore, much of the ward is within a mile of the city centre of Exeter as entirely to the west of the A379, which has the capacity to create confusion amongst communities which instinctively feel part of the city.

“I believe the simplicity of the Old Rydon Lane as a natural barrier that demarcates the two proposed constituencies would be welcomed by residents.

“Lastly, Priory ward contains the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, Wyvern Barracks Exeter Crematorium – all widely recognised as city landmarks and inherently part of Exeter.”

The Labour leader of Exeter City Council, Phil Bialyk, echoed Mr Jupp’s remarks. The council last year agreed to ask the Boundary Commission to include Pinhoe in the new Exmouth seat instead of Priory.

“If you look at the Priory ward compared to the Pinhoe ward just geographically, it fires right into the heart of the city and takes the heart of the city out. And it’s only about, I would say, 600, 700 yards from the city centre,” Cllr Bialyk said.

But he stressed: “Now that’s not to say that people in Pinhoe are any less value to us, and we’re pleased that they stay within the city boundaries and they’re very, very important. But Pinhoe itself has a village identity, a bit like Alphington and many of the others.”

Mr Jupp added: “I believe that the historic village of Pinhoe, having been subsumed into the city of Exeter, still retains much of the independence, character, style and connections of nearby wards in the East Devon district, including Broadclyst.”

He went on to say that many of the nearby villages which fall under the East Devon constituency and would be part of the new Exmouth seat, “orientate towards Pinhoe and share significant local services, including a doctor’s surgery which are more consistently dealt with by a single [MP].”

The current Exeter constituency has an electorate of just over 80,000, higher than between the 69,724 and 77,062 proposed under the new boundaries.

Replacing Pinhoe with Priory would barely make any difference to the numbers. Mr Jupp said Priory’s electorate was currently 6,637 compared to Pinhoe’s total of 6,661.

Exeter councillors last year called for the new Exmouth seat to instead be called ‘Exmouth and East Exeter’, a suggestion that was shared by Mr Jupp at the public hearing.

The boundary changes would leave Devon with 13 MPs – up one on the existing 12 – although one would be split across Devon and Somerset.

However, a previous suggestion of a “Devonwall” constituency which would straddle the border between Devon and Cornwall has been scrapped.

As well as the new Exmouth constituency covering parts of the existing East Devon and Exeter seats, it would mean the existing Tiverton and Honiton seat, currently held by Neil Parish, would be split into new Tiverton and Minehead and Honiton constituencies.

Torridge and West Devon would be renamed Torridge and Tavistock, while in Plymouth the proposal divides the Peverell ward between the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and Plymouth Moor View constituencies.

The changes will keep the number of seats in the House of Commons at 650, but England’s number will increase from 533 to 543. It’s claimed this would make representation more equal and limit seats to populations of between 69,724 and 77,062.

A final four-week consultation will be held towards the end of the year, with the final report being submitted in June 2023.

Boris Johnson is an asset in the local elections – but on rival parties’ leaflets

After his ratings plunged in the wake of “partygate” and as his government faces demands to act over the cost of living, it may be a surprise to discover that Boris Johnson’s face can be found on leaflets for the forthcoming local elections. Unfortunately for the prime minister, it is not his own party’s literature that features his image.

Michael Savage www.theguardian.com 

The Observer has seen Conservative leaflets circulated in London, the Midlands and the north of England in recent weeks. None of them shows Johnson, once regarded as the Tory politician able to reach voters that no one else in his party could.

In the London borough of Sutton, however, the Liberal Democrat canvassing material has the PM in pride of place on the front. Next to him is Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and both are accused of failing to take enough action on energy prices and the cost of living – while increasing taxes.

“The prime minister isn’t featuring on any of the leaflets,” said a Tory MP in a council area where the party had hoped to make gains before partygate unfolded. They said that at one point, local voters would have carried Johnson in victory down the high street, but he would now struggle to get polite handshakes: “A lot of candidates are now trying to make this about local services. It would be pretty odd on that basis to feature the prime minister.”

With Johnson seemingly not the electoral asset he once was, many Tory council candidates appear to be trying to run hyper-local campaigns. A leaflet in Surrey prioritises defending the green belt and repairing local roads and footpaths. Another in Richmond, London, includes a list of “good reasons to vote Conservative”. It features the plea: “We are local residents, not national politicians.”

The latest edition of the “Birmingham champion” leaflet produced to support Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street does not feature the PM. In fact, with its green graphics and personal branding for the mayor, the Conservative logo is nowhere to be found. Another leaflet in Stockport vows to take on Labour’s Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, but does not show Johnson.

The Conservatives are braced for a difficult set of elections in London, where they have been losing ground even while Labour was well behind in the polls nationally. Some had feared losing the key London borough of Wandsworth, though senior Tories said last week that they believed the invasion of Ukraine may have helped partially restore the party’s fortunes, but only temporarily. One Tory MP said that there was frustration with Johnson. “Voters may be on a timeout with partygate, but this is coming back,” they said.

Some Tories in London are also trying to pin the blame for council tax increases on Sadiq Khan, which they say is starting to get through to voters. “It might save the Tories from a meltdown in some areas,” said one veteran campaigner. “It is just possible that the Tories will hold on to Wandsworth. It’s harder to win Westminster, but there might be some surprise results.”

In response to the Lib Dem leaflet in Sutton, a Tory source said: “If you want to compare the electoral successes of Boris Johnson and Ed Davey, I think we all know who the electoral asset is.”

Question Time: Tory MP mocked for claiming Johnson ‘didn’t believe there was wrongdoing’ over Partygate

A Conservative MP prompted mocking laughter from a Question Time audience by claiming that Boris Johnson “genuinely didn’t believe there was wrongdoing” in Downing Street over Partygate.

Andy Gregory www.independent.co.uk

Maria Caulfield battled through multiple outbursts of incredulous laughter and interjections from the audience in her defence of Mr Johnson on Thursday.

That prompted a fellow panel member to observe that, contrary to the claims of some Tory MPs, “the audience tonight tells us the heat hasn’t gone out of this”.

This week’s panel was asked whether the Metropolitan Police’s decision this week to issue 20 initial fixed penalty notices over Covid rule-breaking in Whitehall meant the prime minister had misled parliament and should resign.

Ms Caulfield, the Tory MP for Lewes responded: “I think misleading parliament, to be found guilty of that, it has to be a deliberate misleading, not inadvertently misleading.”

Pushing through an initial bout of laughter, she insisted that Mr Johnson “has been very clear that there were wrongdoings around the Partygate situation” and “has apologised for that” and “made changes already to No 10”.

Amid several shouts from the audience, Ms Caulfield said: “As someone who did work on the Covid wards during the pandemic, no one is more angry about events that took place in No 10, because while many of us were working on the wards, we weren’t having social gatherings after work. So I fully understand the anger, the frustration at what happened.”

Pressed by another audience member on the fact that the prime minister had “held his hands up now, but only because he was found out”, Ms Caulfield claimed: “He genuinely did not believe that there was wrongdoing.”

But her words prompted mocking laughter and looks of bemused disbelief from the crowd, with Thursday’s host, BBC journalist Victoria Derbyshire, saying: “When people laugh when you say he said he didn’t believe he was at a party, what does that make you think?

Ms Caulfield replied: “As I’ve said, I fully understand the anger and frustration”, but Ms Derbyshire interjected: “That was laughter, that was ridicule. They don’t believe him.”

Moments later, Labour MP Steve Reed said it was “really sad to see Tory MPs like Maria wheeled out to defend the indefensible on this”.

Accusing Boris Johnson of having “believed the laws are for the little people”, Mr Reed added: “He’s showed contempt to the British people, he lied to the British people, he lied to parliament … if he had any decency he would resign.”

Ms Caulfield claimed that it was “a bit rich of the Labour Party” to attack Mr Johnson over Partygate when Sir Keir Starmer “was also investigated for a party”, but was told by the host that “there was no investigation”.

Durham Police said in February it had reviewed footage of the Labour Party leader taken last April and did not “believe an offence has been established” and would “take no further action”.

Mr Reed said that “there was no comparison” between the actions of Sir Keir and Mr Johnson, while a member of the audience shouted, in an apparent riposte to Ms Caulfield: “Two wrongs don’t make a right”.

Interjecting shortly afterwards, Talk Radio host Julia Hartley Brewer said: “I’ve had so many Tory MPs on my radio show who tell me that the heat has gone out of this. I think the audience tonight tells us the heat hasn’t gone out of this.”

Describing the UK as having “an arrogant government, and an arrogant No 10, and an arrogant prime minister who think they’re above us”, she added: “I don’t think we should ever be ruled by people who think they’re better than us and know better than us.

“I’m afraid he has to go, because we should have principles in our government that if you lie to parliament, if you make laws that you then break, you have no business being in charge of this country.”

Appearing in front of senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee on Wednesday, the prime minister repeatedly refused to be drawn on the Partygate scandal and whether he could resign, saying he wouldn’t “give a running commentary on an investigation that is underway”.

SNP MP Pete Wishart told the prime minister he was “pretty much toast” if handed a fine by the police.

Use the smallest Bentley! 

Rishi Sunak’s top 5 tips to deal with the cost-of-living crisis

Arabin Patson newsthump.com 

Rishi Sunak cost of living crisis

Before jetting off to one of his California homes, the Chancellor has reacted to criticisms, that he has done little to help Britons struggling with soaring prices, by publishing a list of five money-saving tips to see families through leaner times.

It reads:

  1. Make every penny count! Get your butler (or whoever does your purchasing) to look into loyalty cards and coupons. Only buy non-perishable goods, like Korean roasted purple bamboo salt or Black Bowmore 50-year-old single malt, when they are on sale.
  2. Declutter and sell! We all have extraneous things taking up space that we haven’t used in years. So go through your old clothes, exercise machines, cryo-chambers, albino peacocks and domestic servants and put them for sale online. You’ll reap a tidy profit and maybe awaken the wheeler-dealer in you.
  3. Fortune favours the bold! Whether it’s yachts belonging to Slavic gentlemen keen to make a sale or simply that ounce of cocaine you’re getting because Michael’s coming for dinner, it never hurts to ask for a discount.
  4. Hypermiling keeps savers smiling! When going on holiday, tell the pilot of your jet to enter the slipstream of those ghastly commercial airliners. Doing that could save you £500 just over one trip to the St Barts.
  5. Know your tax credits! The average family can drastically slash their tax bills simply by getting a lawyer in Panama City set up a financial services LLC in the Grand Caymans which then becomes the owner of a Jersey-based company that lists you as a non-executive director that gets paid consulting fees for work that can’t be disclosed because of commercial confidentiality clauses. It’s that easy!