March on Caernarfon heaps further pressure on government amid second homes crisis
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
Campaigners have marched on Caernarfon to heap further pressure on the government and council leaders to implement stricter regulation on second homes in communities across Wales.
A year on from their previous march from Nefyn, Saturday saw members of Hawl i Fyw Adra (Right to Live Locally) make the 17 mile trek from Nant Gwrtheyrn to Gwynedd’s administrative centre to further highlight their cause.
Gwynedd Council figures state that 60% of residents are currently priced out of the housing market with around 11% of the county’s entire stock being used as second homes.
Formed by members of Nefyn Town Council, among Hawl i Fyw Adra’s calls is for an urgent review of the Gwynedd and Anglesey Joint Local Development Plan.
Ratified separately by both authorities in 2017, it forms the backbone of local planning policy and where up to 8,000 new homes should be built.
But following the apparent demise of Anglesey’s second nuclear plant and an unprecedented skyrocketing in house prices – nudged on by an ever-rising number of properties being snapped up as second homes – calls have been made for an urgent review of the “outdated” and “not fit for purpose” plan in order to meet locals’ current needs.
In June Gwynedd’s councillors unanimously backed calls for permission speed up the JLDP’s statutory review, which would take up to three and a half years if the existing legally permitted timetable were adhered to.
The council leader has rejected any suggestion that his authority is not taking urgent action, noting that Gwynedd had “led the campaign” in calling for legislation to control second homes, also becoming one of the first in Wales to charge a 100% council tax premium on their owners.
But claiming that the authority’s leadership “has not responded satisfactorily nor taken positive proactive action,” Hawl i Fyw Adra claims that the current plan “militates against locals and communities.”
At a demonstration outside the council’s headquarters, also attended by Liz Saville Roberts MP, group spokesman Rhys Tudur demanded “immediate action,” claiming that anything less would further weaken the language in its traditional heartlands.
“Councillors had to push the leadership to raise the premium, which shouldn’t happen but it feels like a constant battle,” added Cllr Tudur.
“Their housing action plan won’t allow sufficient local people to continue living in their communities, and I feel that councillors have been misled over how easy it would be to review and amend the JLDP.
“Our communities can’t wait several years to change a policy that was deficient to begin with.”
‘Understand the frustration’
But Gwynedd Council’s leader, Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn, said that it was the council’s own research and recommendations that helped spur on the Welsh Government’s promised measures.
He added, “In terms of the Local Development Plan there is no delay at all; this significant work has begun.
“The council must follow the statutory procedure which involves gathering information and evidence on a wide range of subjects, and to thoroughly consult with all our residents – this is the right thing to do. We cannot make changes to the plan on the basis of one letter from councillors.
“If the work isn’t carried out in accordance with government guidelines, the review could well be rejected, which would leave us in a position where the changes demanded by the campaigners could not be adopted.
“While I understand the frustration, I would suggest that rather than take aim at their allies the campaigners should target the Welsh Government where action can be taken.”
‘Dragging their feet’
The Welsh Government had previously promised “a summer of action” including recently launching a consultation on potentially closing of a “loophole” which can often result in qualifying second home owners not paying any tax at all into the coffers of their local authority.
Among other mooted measures are a planned statutory registration scheme for all holiday accommodation, including short-term lets, and potentially a separate planning classification for second homes.
But Cllr Tudur said that ministers were “dragging their feet”, reiterating urgent calls for a pilot area where it would be mandatory for planning permission to be place before a residential home could be turned into a second property.
Also calling for a specific Land Transaction Tax class for second homes of 20%, he also pointed to measures in place in Switzerland which prohibits non-locals from buying second homes in protected areas, while encouraging more widespread use of ‘Homebuy-Wales’ which provides equity to locals.
He concluded, “The Welsh Government says there’s no golden bullet but there are plenty of examples, you need only look at Switzerland for example.
“In Morfa Nefyn, where I grew up, I have no chance of living there as the prices are ridiculous. That’s the situation we’re in, we need radical action not countless consultations and baby steps.”
The Welsh Government says it recognises the challenges facing some communities, noting it is building 20,000 new homes and that Wales is the only UK nation which allows councils to charge up to a 100% premium on the council tax of second home owners.
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