Second homes ‘destroying’ Welsh-speaking areas, say campaigners

More than 1,000 people gathered outside Caernarfon Castle in north Wales for a rally protesting against second homes, which they say are “destroying” Welsh language strongholds.

Steven Morris 

Members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society) are calling for a new Property Act to protect communities in language heartlands such as Gwynedd in the north and Pembrokeshire in the south-west.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith argues that because so many of the places where Welsh is strong happen to be in some of the country’s most beautiful coastal and rural areas, they are magnets for second-homeowners whose arrival can hollow out Welsh-speaking communities. They say the problem increased during the pandemic when many people left cities and towns and relocated on the coast or in the country.

Ffred Ffransis, a prominent Cymdeithas yr Iaith activist, said: “This current system drives especially young people out of their communities as houses are snapped up – often online within hours – by people moving in from higher-income areas outside Wales.

“This process is destroying Welsh-speaking communities, but is also a wider issue throughout Wales as local people are forced out by commercially driven developments for commuters, people retiring, and unaffordable rents.

“Cymdeithas is calling for a Property Act, which would regulate the open market and treat housing as social assets to provide homes for people in their communities rather than the open-market system which views houses as commercial assets for profit.”

The choice of Caernarfon as the venue for the Nid yw Cymru ar Werth (Wales is not for Sale) rally during the coronation weekend was not insignificant. King Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales took place at the castle in 1969 and the rally was designed to highlight the contrast between the huge wealth of a few and the desperate need of some within Welsh-speaking communities.

Mared Llywelyn Williams, 30, a Welsh writer, said when she talked to young people on the Llŷn Peninsula in north Wales as research for a play, she was surprised how many of them expressed concern about second homes.

“It was quite scary – these were 17-year-old girls who want to live in their own communities when they’re older but they can’t. That’s heartbreaking. They felt angry and deflated.”

Dylan Lewis-Rowlands, an Aberystwyth Labour councillor, said he was worried about how high rents were. “There are places in west and north Wales where landlords control almost the whole village,” he added.

He cited the case of a nurse who worked at a hospital in mid Wales but lived in Birmingham, more than an hour’s drive away. “It’s cheaper for her to rent in Birmingham and pay the petrol. I think frustration is turning to anger.”

New measures giving councils in Wales a raft of extra powers designed to tackle the second homes problem came into force last month.

But Cymdeithas yr Iaith argues the measures do not go far enough and says a new law should place a duty on local authorities to ensure suitable housing solutions for local people within a reasonable distance and time.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We are taking radical action using the planning, property and taxation systems to achieve this, as part of a joined-up package of solutions to a complex set of issues.

“We are also committed to publishing a white paper on the potential to establish a system of fair rents as well as new approaches to make homes affordable for those on local incomes.”

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