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Numbers of second homes in Devon continue to soar. East Devon second only to South Hams

2687 in East Devon one in every 23 properties!

Is this the market we are sacrificing green fields for? – Owl

Parts of Devon have the highest rates of second homes in the country. A total of 13,363 properties in Devon are classed as second homes, according to new research by Action on Empty Homes – an 11.2 per cent increase compared to 2021, when there were 12,019 such properties.

David Dubas-Fisher

These are homes that are unlived in, but are fully furnished. The numbers also include holiday lets like AirBnBs as well as “buy-to-leave” properties, which are purchased as investments that are left unoccupied in the expectation that their value will rise.

South Hams has the highest number of any local authority in the region, with a total of 3,947 – and 14.2 per cent increase from last year. It means that one in every 11 properties in South Hams is now either a second home or a long-term empty homes, the 4th highest rate in England.

Some 8.6 per cent of properties in the area are classed as second homes. Only the City of London (22.3 per cent), North Norfolk (9.8 per cent) and the Isles of Scilly (8.7 per cent) rank higher. East Devon has seen a 14.4 per cent increase in second homes in the past

In North Devon the rate of second homes or of long-term empty homes – a property that has been empty for more than six months, and doesn’t have a statutory exemption from council tax – is one in every 21 properties, while in East Devon it’s one in every 23, in Torridge it’s one in every 24, and in West Devon it’s one in every 34.

There are 3,828 LTEHs in our county according to Action on Empty Homes’ research. That’s up from 2,987 in 2021, an increase of 28.2 per cent.

Chris Bailey National Campaign Manager for Action on Empty Homes said: “After more than a decade of intense housing crisis it is shocking to see long-term empty homes in England rise to 257,331 – another 20,000 more wasted empties, while nearly 100,000 families are trapped in Temporary Accommodation, costing the nation one and a half billion pounds a year. This is good money wasted on often extremely poor quality housing. Homeless families need genuinely affordable lifetime homes.

“A new national empty homes programme is long overdue – the government needs to step up to the plate and offer funding and incentives to get these homes back into use. Long-term empties are a huge missed opportunity to invest in green retrofit and create new jobs.

“Continued growth in long-term empty homes while our housing crisis intensifies sends a clear message, we are failing to meet housing need and failing to make best use of our existing homes.”

Both West Devon and South Hams councils have declared housing a crisis. Due to a number of factors, including the lack of rented accommodation which is available for longer than six months, an excessive rise in house prices due to second home-owners, the conversion of properties to Airbnb’s and people moving into the District since the pandemic. South Hams District Council last Autumn said it has no choice but to declare a Housing Crisis.

Local Authority: Second homes 2022

South Hams: 3947

East Devon: 2687

North Devon: 1809

Teignbridge: 1320

Torridge: 1142

Plymouth UA: 1107

West Devon: 650

Exeter: 505

Mid Devon: 196

Tourism boss says we need to attract ‘friends’ not ‘effing emmets’

Tourism should be driven firstly by what the people want. it’s got to be sustainable and regenerative and not damaging.

This article is centred on Cornwall  but the message applies equally to Devon. – Owl 

Lee Trewhela

Although Visit Cornwall boss Malcolm Bell is retiring at the end of the year, he’s certainly not taking any prisoners. He told CornwallLive the future of tourism in the Duchy relies on attracting ‘friends’ and ‘guests’ and forgetting the ‘****ing emmets’.

In an interview with CornwallLive, he said: “In my mind, visitors fall into five unofficial categories – at one level you have friends, then you have guests, then you have tourists, then you have bloody tourists, then you have ****ing emmets. You can quote me on that. The challenge we have is to get the friends, guests and tourists, who get us. Then try and convert the bloody tourists, but forget the awkward people who are ‘why haven’t you got this?’, ‘why haven’t you got that?’ It’s about targeting the right people at the right time of year.”

Mr Bell, 67, made the comment – which he knows he’ll get in trouble for – while talking about the two summers of the pandemic, when Cornwall was swamped by tourists, many of whom were here begrudgingly because they couldn’t go abroad.

“Last year, in particular, should be a salutary note, like burning your fingers as a kid you learn not to do that again. It’s great having a good road system now but it does open us up, and the pandemic opened us up to things that were quite difficult to cope with.

“In the 1970s people were in Cornwall because they couldn’t afford a proper holiday and there were a lot of chips on shoulders, and we felt that again in those two years. It had come back around. Twenty-five years ago it was ‘the Westcountry’, 15 years ago it was ‘Devon and Cornwall’ and now ‘Cornwall’ is the Waitrose and Devon is the Sainsbury’s. We’ve really come up through. We made ourselves the place to be, but half the country went abroad. Once you stopped them going abroad, we ended up with people here who didn’t want to be here. It’s settled down again now.”

There is a certain irony that the proud Cornishman who has helmed our tourism sector, used to wear a hat bearing a slogan which wasn’t the most inviting to visitors.

He said: “My mother destroyed the photograph otherwise you could have had it, of me wearing a hat with ‘Go home emmet’ written on it. That was because in about 1976 I was walking through Falmouth and these wonderful young men from Birmingham asked me where the nearest Indian restaurant was. Naively, I answered the question correctly to the best of my knowledge at the time, which was Plymouth. That’s why there’s a dent in my nose. I think they thought I was taking the Michael. So I wasn’t very happy about visitors for a while.”

It’s fair to say that under his tenure at Visit Cornwall, since 2010, tourism in Cornwall has never been so successful … or controversial.

“People don’t like me saying this, but the rise in tourism has helped with Cornwall’s identity, not necessarily always for the good, I’ll admit that, but people know about Cornwall now. We’re not just part of the Westcountry. We’re not tagged to a strange place called Devon. I always say Devon is the nearest place to Heaven … keep going and you’ll find it, and Devon is short for Drive On.

“But now we have to tackle the problems of success. That’s why we have to learn from those two years.”

Mr Bell steps down from his post at the end of December, but will carry on in the background in a consultation role, working on a plan for regenerative and sustainable tourism. Negotiations are currently taking place to employ his successor.

He told me: “I’m finishing off a strategy and trying to get Cornwall Council to endorse it, which says that the new direction in tourism should be driven firstly by what the people of Cornwall want, the next thing is improving the jobs and career prospects, and it’s got to be sustainable and regenerative and not damaging. Even if that restricts the growth of the sector, it can stay like that for decades. If you have a year like we had before, we’ll just be busted. That’s the worst thing that can happen. There are businesses that disagree with me, most agree.

“We are lucky compared to a lot of places as we’ve got a lot of independent businesses rather than chains of multi-nationals, or businesses that are backed by venture capitalists, who want their money. Whereas down here, most people want to look after Cornwall.”

He is a passionate advocate for regenerative tourism which has the people of Cornwall at its heart.

“In ten years time, we – and I mean everyone in Cornwall including the council – should be controlling the stock and only having professional providers doing the right things, and there should be a career path for somebody who enters at base level to progress to the level they desire. We should prevent over-tourism. There should be regenerative tourism, such as businesses doing rewilding work, introducing bees, holding more community events.

“When it comes to events, the core audience should be locals first and what they want. Don’t create things just for staying visitors. That’s part of regenerative tourism, which helps the local community but still generates the money you need.”

What about that hot potato, a tourism tax?

“We’ve got to get the right balance of the cost of tourism and the cost of improving Cornwall in a fair and equitable way that is easy to administer, because we do get calls for a tourism tax. Thirty-three pence in the pound of a visitor’s spend goes to London, so in Cornwall that’s about £600-£700 million. There should be some form of mechanism to get the balance right.

“My view is why can’t there be a balance where we get 5% of all that VAT money back? At the moment when tourism booms, it’s Cornwall pain, Treasury gain. And why can’t we find mechanisms where visitors are happy to contribute? As soon as you say ‘tourism tax’, one lot cheer and one lot oppose it, and that’s not going to bring us together.”

Mr Bell believes the success of Cornwall’s tourism industry, while negating the impact it can have on those of us who live here, is to spread the visitor love outside the peak summer months.

“We would like to attract an extra 10% to 20% of people in January, February and March but no more in August. That extends the jobs we’ve got. I think the two months we’ll never crack are November and January. February you’ve got half-term, so if you get it going in March to the end of October, staff will be kept on. So full-time employment in the sector would be around nine-and-a-half months.

“That’s why we’ve got to look at what we’re calling the Cornwall Evergreen, which is culture, restaurants, the heritage, the wildlife. I know dogs on beaches is a contentious issue, but if you’ve got a dog and you want to go somewhere in the winter, sandy paws are preferable to muddy paws. There are little markets and niches. Another area is attracting the business market to do their planning and reviews between October and March, so come down and do some actual blue sky thinking.

“The new website, which will be finished before I go, is Cornwall For All Seasons and is mainly designed to say what’s best about Cornwall outside the main peak. Not being funny, but any tourist board boss normally when they get TV and film coverage in their area gets excited, but in the last two years it’s been like London buses in Cornwall. It’s the same stuff – it doesn’t feature the areas that we’d like, such as south east Cornwall. It doesn’t actually show what it’s like to live here.”

How has this year been compared to the manic summers of 2020/21, when hospitality staff were at breaking point?

“This year has been quieter than 2019, ironically – the spring was quiet and then the attractions suffered a lot because it was so warm. If it’s 19 degrees you stay on the beach for three hours, but when it’s 25 you stay on it all day, every day.

“There have been too many people thinking they could get too much money like the two years before. It did give us a reputation for being too expensive, which is ridiculous. Value for quality is one thing, but ripping people off is a completely different thing. Sensible businesses – and there are plenty of them – didn’t overegg it. You nurture a customer for life, you don’t rip them off and expect them to come back. But those who did are now the ones who are suffering.”

What would he say to people who argue Cornwall shouldn’t be so reliant on tourism?

“I’m all for it. If you get a broader economy, with other sectors in Cornwall such as the space industry, you get more people who will go out and eat and drink, and it won’t be a seasonal thing. Though I would say to anybody, I don’t know anywhere in the world that’s attractive and on the periphery and doesn’t rely in varying degrees on tourism.

“Cornwall is a really strong brand now, but we want that expanded into all the other sectors too. If we could have a more balanced economy, that would be brilliant. If tourism in its size didn’t grow, but other sectors did – what’s wrong with that?”

He believes some radical changes have to be made, such as compulsory registration for everyone offering holiday accommodation at whatever level.

“The population in Cornwall when I started working was 250,000 and now it’s 550,000, which is why we’re pushing for compulsory registration and, I think the next thing is, planning permission if you’re going to rent out your property as a holiday let. You’ve got to be registered and have planning permission.

“I tried to bait Gordon Ramsay, but he wouldn’t take it, on Radio 5 Live. In the south of France if you’re a millionaire second home owner, you’re persuaded to buy a couple of houses to rent for local people. I tried to bait Gordon Ramsay into agreeing to buy a couple of houses to rent to up-and-coming chefs. We could do with a bit more of that philanthropic balance.”

Mr Bell, whose family go back centuries in Cornwall, said of his retirement: “A couple of years ago I was thinking of stepping down until a strange thing called Covid came along. This year was mainly spent settling things down, but I thought I can’t hang around as there will be another crisis in a minute … and there is one.”

He was brought up on Malabar estate in Truro, with one set of grandparents living on the Trelander estate on the other side of the city and his other grandparents at Hendra Vean in Truro. He attended Bosvigo School and then Treyew School in the city – “I used to go sleep every afternoon and the school inspector was called to my mother, and they asked why I was going to sleep all the time, and I said no one told me I couldn’t!”

He added: “I did rubbish for a few years, failed the 11-plus, went to Penwethers Secondary Modern – which became Richard Lander, I wasn’t bright enough to go to the grammar school. I attended Camborne Tech then did nuclear physics and computing at Manchester Poly, which was partly driven by meeting a girl from the north and partly by let’s see a city.”

A career in the civil service saw him return to Cornwall in a host of jobs, including one with the sexy title of work related non advanced further education funding manager. After undertaking an economic study of tourism in Devon and Cornwall in the mid-1990s, Mr Bell got a job with the Westcountry Tourist Board, which then turned into South West Tourism, and in 2010, after council unification, he was employed as chief executive of Visit Cornwall, which after losing its Cornwall Council funding continued as a CIC.

He said: “Tourism is not a statutory responsibility – when I arrived, the budget for Visit Cornwall was £2m and they took half a million off that for the One Cornwall project and then all the austerity cuts started hitting. Understandably when it comes to social care and children, why can’t tourism look after itself as it’s a big industry? Why was the taxpayer paying for it?”

Mr Bell says it’s a difficult job and wishes his successor well. He certainly gets a bit of stick from people on social media.

“I’m glad my mum’s gone, she would have got upset, and my dad would have got angry. I was taught by my father to have acute hearing but thick skin. So I listen to it and if it’s reasonable, regardless of how it comes across, I take it on board.”

He added that Visit Cornwall has had some brilliant and bizarre complaints in recent times. “People have complained St Ives doesn’t look right because the water’s out, someone said they drove over an hour from the north coast to the south coast to find the tide was in there as well, and ‘when I came last year the beach was big but now it’s small, you should tell people that the tide comes in’.”

Mr Bell told me: “My old geography teacher used to say to us, ‘crack on or you’ll end up working in tourism’.” He’s certainly made a good crack of it, even if his teacher wouldn’t approve.

Health Secretary Refuses To Acknowledge NHS Delays Could Be Causing Deaths

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said delays to ambulance services had created a “material risk” for patients, but did not explicitly acknowledge concerns that long waits were contributing to patient deaths. (Sunday)

Barclay has this morning faced pressure to address urgent concerns by NHS leaders that people have died while waiting for ambulances to arrive.

Deborah Lee, chief executive of Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Andew Cox, a senior coroner in Cornwall, have both raised the alarm in recent days about the impact of ambulance waits. According to The Sunday Times, Cox has written to Barclay outlining his damning assessment of repeated cases of patients he believes have died as a result of delays, and demanded action. 

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Barclay said he was “aware” of the concerns and that he was looking at the issue “extremely closely”.  

But he repeatedly refused to acknowledge whether record-high waiting times for paramedics could be contributing to deaths.

“If there is a delay in an ambulance getting to someone in terms of unmet need, and obviously, that is a material risk,” Barclay said.

“That is why it is so important that we get the flow in terms of those handover delays. About a fifth of the delay is due to what happens in hospitals itself.

He continued: “The primary cause of the delays, the biggest factor, has been delays in domiciliary care and residential homes.

In October, only 70 per cent of patients were seen within four hours in all A&E departments, the worst performance reported since the target was introduced.

The number of people waiting for non-urgent hospital treatment also hit a record-high in September, with 7.07m on the list.

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Barclay told the BBC that many of the delays in the NHS were due to the effects of the pandemic, and a lack of social care places delaying the discharge of people from hospital.

He defended the government’s decision to delay plans to cap lifetime social care costs at £86,000 until 2025, despite the reform originally being intended to come into effect in 2023.

“It’s a very difficult decision to delay those reforms. We remain committed to them,” he said. 

“But we recognise it as an immediate issue, particularly in hospitals where we got 30,500 people who are ready to discharge, but we are not able to do so. That is having a knock on effect in areas like ambulances and the flow through hospitals.”

He highlighted that the government had pledged an extra £2.3bn for the next two years for the NHS as part of plans announced in the Autumn Statement this week.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting dismissed Barclay’s claims that the pandemic was a leading cause of the current delays in NHS services, and highlighted the longer-term backlog. 

“Steve Barclay back to the discredited Conservative script claiming that Conservative NHS backlogs are Covid backlogs,” Streeting tweeted on Sunday morning.

“But we went INTO the pandemic with NHS waiting lists ALREADY at a RECORD 4.5 MILLION.

“The longer the Conservatives are in power the longer patients will wait.”

Labour has pledged to significantly increase NHS staffing, paid for by abolishing non-dom tax exemption. 

Despite an increase in funding announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt this week, the NHS is facing unprecedented strikes this winter, with Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members going on strike for the first time.

Barclay said his “door is open” for negotiations with the RCN and other unions, whom he met with earlier this week to discuss their demands, which include better working conditions and a pay rise of 5% above inflation.

But RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said on Thursday that those meetings had failed to solve the issues relating to the strike and were not meaningful negotiations. 

“I must not let my members, nor the public confuse these meetings for serious discussions on the issues of NHS pay and patient safety,” she said in a letter to members.

“There is only value in meeting if you wish to discuss – in formal, detailed negotiations – the issues that have caused our members to vote for strike action.”

Barclay said on Sunday that the government had “respected” the independent pay review body’s recommendations on pay, and highlighted that other areas of the public sector were having pay freezes.

Responding Barclay’s comments, the RCN’s Pat Cullen said the health secretary’s “lack of intention and inability to see the urgency of this situation will trouble every nurse”.

“Just an hour after we again urged him to come to the negotiating table to have detailed, formal discussions on pay and patient safety, he showed no signs of doing so.

“He has finally admitted what we’ve been saying about years of neglect, underinvestment and, as a result, underperformance, but that is not enough.

Cullen added that in this “key week for health and care” the sector needed ministers to “be bold and adopt a radical new position with serious investment in nursing”.

“If governments don’t follow Nicola Sturgeon’s lead in Scotland, we will announce strike dates in December for the rest of the UK,” she added.