Councillor scrutinising second homes issue reveals he can’t afford a house in his own village

Eglwysbach, Conwy

Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter

The chair of a committee scrutinising plans for increased charges on second homes revealed he’s been priced out of buying a house in his home village.

Cllr Austin Roberts made the frank admission when chairing a discussion on second and empty home premiums, during Monday’s virtual finance and resources scrutiny meeting at Conwy county council.

The Eglwysbach representative revealed he has just three years left on his farm tenancy at Tal y Cafn – but can’t afford to buy a home there.

He spoke up in support of a defeated motion from Uwch Conwy representative, Cllr Wyn Ellis Jones.

Cllr Jones said keeping premiums at 25% of the council tax for second home owners would encourage people to buy extra properties in Conwy county, rather than in neighbouring districts.

Gwynedd council has added a 50% premium to second homes and Anglesey added 35% for second properties, plus a 100% council tax premium to long term empty homes. Gwynedd is also exploring increasing the second homes charge to 100% after a meeting last week.

The Conwy county council officers’ recommendation, which was passed by the committee, asked for premiums to be rolled back from a previous pledge to charge second home owners 50% and only charge an extra 25% of the council tax charge.

The recommendation for those who own long-term empty homes was kept at 50% of the council tax charge, with six months grace for those who had gained second properties which were not used and not rented out.

Supporting Cllr Jones’ doomed amendment to have a 50% premium on both, Cllr Roberts said: “I am somebody who was born and bred in this county – I’ve lived here all my life.

“I am a tenancy farmer. My tenancy comes to an end when I am 65 which is three years away.

“I cannot afford to buy in the community I grew up in and that’s a problem.”

He explained how he owned a house in Penmaenmawr and his step-daughter and her partner were renting it from him because they couldn’t afford to get on the housing ladder themselves.

He said although Penmaenmawr was a “lovely place” he would much rather “live in an area I was born and bred in” and was a fairly “Welsh speaking area”.

He said he was worried his stepdaughter and her partner would not be able to afford any property in the area, when his tenancy ends and he took up residence in his house.

He added: “We are like Indians circling the wagons and we go round and round. Something has got to give and because of that I am going to second Cllr Wyn Jones’ proposal that we put a 50% premium on both (second homes and longer-term empty homes).”

 

Loophole

Cllr Charlie McCoubrey, cabinet member for housing and regulatory, said he hoped new planning regulations would be adopted in the new Local Development Plan to restrict the numbers of new houses that could be used as second homes.

Cllr Jones’ amendment was easily voted down after officers said raising the charge would lead to people using a loophole in the law to turn second homes into businesses and avoid even paying national non-domestic rates, which would mean the council losing out on revenue.

The new 50% premium on long term empty homes is double the charge made this year will and will be effective from April 2021.

Officers believe it will bring in an extra £540,000 which will be used for budgetary pressures in housing and to help fund homelessness prevention.

The recommendations, from the council tax premium task and finish group, will also see both premiums at 50% from April 2022, but that will be reviewed nearer the date.

There are currently more than 1,400 buildings in the county classified as second homes and 826 classed as long term empty properties.

Six people have complained about the premiums, with five being referred to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. None has yet been upheld.

Plans to apply the premiums will need final approval by cabinet tomorrow (Tuesday) before being introduced.

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