Open letter from communities to First Minister urges action over housing crisis
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Pressure is growing on ministers to act on Wales’ second homes crisis after dozens of community councils came together to write an open letter to the First Minister.
Penned by representatives of community and county councils across Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, it urges ministers to implement the findings of a report they commissioned on the impact of second homes on many Welsh speaking communities.
“As you know, our communities are suffering tremendously as a result of the lack of control on the second home market, which has seen house prices skyrocket out of the reach of local people, ” notes the letter coordinated by Nefyn’s ‘Hawl i Fyw Adra’ campaign.
“We urge you to show leadership to solve the crisis by introducing legislation to protect our communities and cultural wealth.
“It would be great to see positive action to show that Wales is an ethical and principled country.”
Among its 32 signatories are an array community and county councillors including Anglesey Council’s housing portfolio holder and Carmarthenshire’s Planning Committee chair.
Following on from the letter, demonstrations were held on the Llŷn Peninsula and Anglesey on Saturday, with campaigners determined not to let the issue lie.
According to Gwynedd Council, 10.77% of its housing stock is now designated as second homes, which is higher than any other county in Wales.
But with recent Land Registry figures showing that property prices have risen by 11% over the past year – and as much as 16% on Anglesey – it prompted the island’s MS to slam the “totally unregulated” second homes market.
“I see it in empty streets and dark windows during the winter, the frustrations of young people unable to afford to buy in their communities and the 16% rise, things are getting worse every day,” said Rhun ap Iorwerth.
“It’s right to differentiate between second homes and tourism, locally owned tourism businesses is a vital economic tool but unregulated second home ownership is not.
“Yes we need better jobs and to build more truly affordable homes, but your Welsh Government has to use every planning and taxation tool to bring the market under some sort of control and to offer some sort of hope and an opportunity for people in our communities.”
In response, the First Minister confirmed that second homes was an issue he had offered to work on a cross party basis to solve.
“I have seen Plaid Cymru’s five point plan and I’m sure there are ideas we can work on together,” Mr Drakeford added.
“I agree that we need to use many tools including taxation and planning and others, bringing them together to try and make a difference and hopefully by working together.”
While speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the First Minister went on to say there was “no single bullet solution.”
“We are going to bring forward some proposals, aimed particularly in those communities where young people are unable to stay – where young people aren’t able to find anywhere to live and stay and work in the community in which they grew up in,” he said during a visit to the north this week.
“That will be a mixture of measures. It will be some measures to do with the way we tax property sales, there’ll be measures to do with planning – rights local authorities will be able to use.
“There will be things we can use to do with Land Transaction arrangements.
“None of these by themselves are a single bullet solution but if we bring together a range of measures we can use, then we can make a difference in those local housing markets.”
The ‘Second homes – Developing new policies in Wales’ report, published by Dr Simon Brooks in March, recommended 12 measures including changes to both the taxation and planning systems.
Highlighting that second homes and associated issues are not a pan-Wales phenomenon, rather it suggests that regional or local interventions are required and urges all authorities to follow the lead of Gwynedd and raise the tax premium on such properties to 100%.
Others include trialling a new planning use class for second homes, requiring planning permission before converting a main residence into a second home or short-term holiday accommodation, and adding a rate of up to 4 per cent to the land transaction tax on second homes in specific local government wards, or otherwise devolve power to county councils to vary the tax.
Recommending an exemption on short-term holiday accommodation from being eligible for small business rates relief, Dr Brooks also advises the establishment of a commission to make further recommendations about the future of the Welsh language as a community language.
He concluded: “The likelihood is that structural problems, such as young Welsh speakers leaving rural communities due to a lack of economic opportunities, will deepen.”