Councillors back 200% council tax premium in second homes hotspot
Bruce Sinclair, local democracy reporter
Councillors in one of Wales’ second homes hotspots, have backed proposals for second-home owners to pay a triple council tax premium, following a lengthy and impassioned debate.
Pembrokeshire has been operating a 100 per cent council tax premium for second homes, effectively a double rate, along with a 25-100 per cent premium for empty properties, depending on the length of vacancy.
Members at the full council meeting on 14 December were recommended to back a Cabinet-supported 200 per cent premium for second homes; empty properties facing a 50 per cent premium for those empty for two years, increasing to 200 per cent for those empty for three years or more.
Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack told members that, without the increase in second homes tax, the annual council tax bill for full-time residents, at a time the council faced a predicted budget gap of £27.1m, was likely to see a percentage increase of over 20 per cent.
He described the decision to call for a higher second homes rate as “far more difficult” than the case for empty properties, with many such owners having long-term connections with the county.
Citing Saundersfoot as an example, Cllr Cormack said some parts of the county popular with second-home-ers had seen a huge decline in the number of families with school age children living in them, saying the centre of the village had been described as “almost a child-free zone” with the number of pupils in the school half what it was a decade before.
He said the proposed premium on second homes could raise some £5m for council coffers, with approximately £1m raised from empty properties, the two being the equivalent of around eight or nine per cent of the council tax bill.
“Are we being fair? Given the scale of the funding gap nothing we do will be ‘fair,’ council tax is not ‘fair,’ increasing it by over 20 per cent would hit hardest [the] working poor.”
Many members said they could not support the 200 per cent increase, backing an amendment to 150 per cent, “using the large sledgehammer in a tentative way,” proposed by Councillor Jamie Adams, who – as the-then leader – had brought in the initial second homes premium.
One of those against the 200 per cent rate was Cllr Mark Carter, who stressed not all second-homers were wealthy people from London visiting “a couple of times a year”.
He raised the plight of local people renting out holiday let properties to supplement their incomes, but were unable to qualify for business rates, saying the proposed increase could “effectively write off the entire summer season”.
An impassioned pleas for the 200 per cent rate was made by Tenby councillor Michael Williams, who – back in 2016 – had called for a 100 per cent rate.
He described previously thriving communities were “almost dead” outside the holiday seasons.
“Look at the town centre of Tenby, even during the day it’s almost dead; there are no second home-owners this time of year.
“Walk through the towns at night, there are almost entire streets in darkness.
“To say they spend more than in their own communities, that’s cloud cuckoo land; they’re bringing their food from Waitrose.
“Second home-owners pretend they cannot see the damage they are causing to the communities, they cause huge damage.
“I know it’s a blunt instrument but give us another answer; our local communities are being hollowed out, this is the only instrument we have to tackle this issue.”
Cllr Adams’ amendment was defeated by 36 votes to 13, the 200 per cent recommendation – effectively a treble rate – passing by 28 votes to 21.
On the empty property’s premium, an amendment by Cllr Huw Murphy sought an increase on the Cabinet-backed proposals: 100 per cent after 24 months, 200 per cent after 36 months, and 300 per cent after five years.
That proposal proved far less contentious, with Cllr Cormack stating he would back it rather than his own recommendation, and Cllr Aled Thomas describing long-term empty properties as “bringing nothing” to their communities.
That amendment was passed by 42 votes to four. All changes will take effect in the next financial year.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.