Radical measures giving councils in Wales a raft of extra powers designed to stop second homes hollowing out communities, especially in coastal and rural areas, have come into force.
Steven Morris www.theguardian.com
Local authorities across Wales are using the powers to increase the amount of council tax that second home owners must pay and will also be able to bring in changes to planning rules to make it harder for houses and flats to be snapped up as holiday boltholes.
The Labour-led Welsh government said the idea was to make sure everyone had the chance to live in their local community and to improve the availability and affordability of housing to rent and buy for those on local incomes.
Introduced as part of the administration’s cooperation agreement with Plaid Cymru, the measures are also intended to help protect Welsh-language strongholds by stopping speakers being forced out because of soaring house prices.
Local authorities are now able to set and collect council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty properties at up to 300%. This means, for example, that a £1,000 bill for a permanent resident could be as much as £4,000 for a second home owner.
Five councils – Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, Flintshire and Powys – have increased the premium charged for second homes in 2023-24, and others intend to follow suit. The premium varies but in Gwynedd, which has a number of second home hotspots such as Abersoch, councillors voted to set it at 150% – the highest in the country.
Three new planning use classes have been introduced – a primary home, a second home and short-term holiday accommodation. Local planning authorities, where they have evidence, will be able to make amendments to the planning system to require planning permission for change of use from one class to another.
Rebecca Evans, the minister for finance and local government, said: “We want to ensure councils have the powers available to them to strike the right balance in local housing supply.”
Julie James, the minister for climate change, said there was no quick fix but added: “The wide range of measures we have introduced – across tax, planning, empty homes and our commitment to statutory licensing – are unequalled as a package in a UK context.”
Some tourism leaders and Conservative politicians have criticised the changes, arguing they make Wales appear unwelcoming. This week, the Welsh government said it was pressing ahead with plans to introduce a visitor levy – which the Tories in Wales have called a “toxic tourism tax”.
Siân Gwenllian, a Senedd member for Arfon in north-west Wales, said: “Ultimately this is matter of fairness for local people and those on lower incomes. I am glad that so many local authorities in every corner of our country are responding positively to the levers that have been introduced.”