Campaigners urge incoming Welsh Government to act on rural housing crisis
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
The First Minister has been implored to take urgent action over the housing crisis plaguing much of rural Wales – just days after his re-election.
Campaigners in Nefyn have written to Mark Drakeford seeking clarity over what legislation the newly mandated Welsh Labour Government will introduce amid rising tensions within many Welsh speaking communities.
But according to the area’s newly elected MS, any lack of action from the Government could see backbenchers bring forward their own legislation to try and force the issue through the Senedd.
Following Thursday’s better than expected election results for Welsh Labour, Nefyn Town Council has written to the First Minister in an appeal to treat the situation “as a priority.”
Congratulating him following his success, the letter says: “House prices in our area have shot up as a result of a lack control over the purchase of holiday homes.
“As things stand we can’t see a future for our communities as vibrant and sustainable ones for future generations.”
The letter goes on to urge Mr Drakeford to implement the findings of a Welsh Government commissioned report, compiled by Porthmadog-based academic, Dr Simon Brooks.
The 81 page report recommends 12 policy changes to alleviate the ongoing impact on mainly Welsh speaking areas, amid Gwynedd Council housing chiefs noting that as many as 40% of homes sold last year were for second homes.
While calling on authorities to increase their respective second home council tax premiums to the maximum permitted 100% – as Gwynedd has already done – other recommendations include a consultation on exempting short-term holiday accommodation from being eligible for small business rates relief.
Warning that competition for countryside housing is only likely to increase, the report noted that further home working would theoretically allow an employee of a Manchester, Bristol or London based company to “spend their weekends in rural Wales, and a fair amount of the week too,” only commuting to the main office when required.
Dr Brooks also called for a trial of new planning laws that would see a new use class for second homes, thus requiring planning permission to be in place before converting a main residence into a second home or short-term holiday accommodation.
One of the new intake of Senedd Members, meanwhile, has also cranked up the pressure on the Welsh Government to take action, noting it was one of the biggest issues brought up on the doorstep during the campaign.
Mabon ap Gwynfor, who was comfortably elected as the Plaid Cymru member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he would even consider backbench legislation if the Labour-led government failed to take sufficient action.
“I said, upon being selected as a candidate, that one of the major challenges facing areas such as Dwyfor Meirionnydd is second homes, not necessarily legitimate businesses, but it’s clear it’s become an even bigger issue during the pandemic.
“This is a problem that is really concerning people, you only need to look at the protests in Nefyn, but so many communities are suffering while also having knock-on effects on others.
“I was talking to a family in Dolgellau who couldn’t afford to buy locally but could point out that half the houses on some streets were holiday homes.”
In what was a largely disappointing election for Plaid Cymru in expanding its reach, the results did show a marked bolstering of support in seats already held by the party in its Welsh speaking heartlands.
With many of his party colleagues experiencing similar issues in their own constituencies, Mabon ap Gwynfor added: “As a backbench member there is an option to introduce a backbench bill, so one of the first things I will do is speak to Senedd lawyers and see how we can start the process.
“Dr Brooks’ paper is there to act upon, Mark Drakeford did say that work had taken place so I am hopeful the Government will reach out to Plaid Cymru and members such as myself, Rhun ap Iorwerth (Ynys Môn), Sian Gwenllian (Arfon) and Elin Jones (Ceredigion) who face this same problem and see what can be done.
“If that will go far enough we don’t know. But there will be a lot of pressure coming from our benches.
“Time is not on our side, we can see two bedroom homes are going for half a million in some areas, silly prices when the average local wage is £21,000.”
In its pre-election manifesto, on the issue of second homes, Welsh Labour said it would retain the 1% increase in Land Transaction Tax charged on second home purchases.
The party also promised to build 20,000 new, low carbon social homes for rent, adding: “We will work with communities to explore and develop effective tax, planning and housing measures – which could include local rates of Land Transaction Tax -to ensure the interests of local people are protected.”
In response to Nefyn Town Council’s letter, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We thank Nefyn Town Council for their letter and they will receive a response shortly.”
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This is an issue that needs to be given priority by the new government. It shouldn’t need backbench legislation. If Drakeford fails to act, he will quickly lose the moral high ground that he currently stands on following his pandemic performance and his standing up to the Westminster government.
This issue needs URGENT action. Tourism, if we must have it, will not be sustainable when there are no local people to service it because local people will not be living in the locality as there will be no homes for them! There will be a knock-on effect for all services, schools will close, teachers will have to move elsewhere for work etc. Mark Drakeford cannot ignore this looming crisis – he must act on Dr Brooks’ paper now.