Tory MS criticised for ‘suggesting there isn’t a problem with second homes’ in Wales
A Tory MS has been criticised for suggesting that “there isn’t a problem with second homes” in Wales.
Julie James, the Minister for Climate Change took aim at Janet Finch-Saunders during a debate in the Senedd on the subject.
Yesterday, the Welsh Government announced the details of a pilot scheme to tackle the impact second home ownership is having on some Welsh communities.
The Minister told MSs that Dwyfor had been chosen for a pilot which will launch in January with support from Gwynedd Council, in an attempt to address the impacts large numbers of second homes and short-term holiday lets can have.
But Janet Finch-Saunders said she has “misgivings” about the move, and argued that it is “important that the Welsh Government does not intervene in the market in a manner that has too much of an impact.”
She told the Senedd that the they should be “supporting people to buy houses, rather than lowering house prices inadvertently”, and suggested that the “tackling of second homes will not solve the issue of housing affordability”.
The Minister replied, telling the Tory politician that “if she honestly thinks there isn’t a problem with second homes, then I suggest she gets out more, because in most parts of Wales there most certainly is”.
During a discussion in the Senedd, Janet Finch-Saunders said: “Before I begin, I would like to refer Members and members of the public to my own register of interests as regards property ownership.
“I have many misgivings about the statement made today, as it is important that the Welsh Government does not intervene in the market in a manner that has too much of an impact.
“The Welsh Government needs to be supporting people to buy houses, rather than lowering house prices inadvertently. Therefore, increasing premiums is not the answer, neither is the possibility of enabling local planning authorities to switch on the need for planning permission to change from a primary home to a secondary home or short-term holiday let.
“During the cross-party group on housing last week, Shelter Cymru officials present agreed that the tackling of second homes will not solve the issue of housing affordability. The simple fact here is that we need to be building more homes—well, rather, you as a Government need to be building more homes.”
‘National Residential Landlords Association’
She added: “The National Residential Landlords Association have proposed removing the second home land transaction tax premium and separating buy-to-let properties from second homes—because, again, I would ask you to tell us today, Minister, what you consider to be a second home—as they are defined in current discourse, encouraging landlords to help address the empty property issue.
“We believe there is an issue, there aren’t enough homes in Wales, but there has to be a far more balanced and proportionate response, and this should not be part of any coalition deal with another political party.”
Julie James replied: “Janet Finch-Saunders, because she’s part of the cross-party working group, will know perfectly well that we have been working with local authorities right across Wales on their local development plans to identify housing land that is identified in the LDP to understand why it isn’t brought forward for housing and to make sure that we’ve removed all the barriers for that.
“She would do well to discuss with Propertymark and others how much land banking there is in the private sector across Wales and why the release of housing is so slow, and whether that has any effect on the current house prices, because I think she’d be quite surprised by some of the answers.”
She added: “So, for a very long time now, we have been offering grant aid to people to bring the empty homes back into beneficial use, either for their own use, if they live in them for five years, or to give them to us as social rented homes, where that’s suitable.”
Mabon ap Gwynfor, the Plaid Cymru MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd said: “There are generations of people who have been campaigning to encourage governments to take action on this crisis, a crisis that’s been facing some of our communities over decades.
“Back at the beginning of the 1980s, my predecessor in Dwyfor, Dafydd Wigley, put forward ideas to tackle the issue of second homes in Westminster, but he was ignored then.
“We also have to acknowledge the role of Gwynedd Council—and Plaid Cymru leads that council—as they have already done much of the work around this area, and I thank them for their leadership in this area.
“The fact that we are seeing concrete steps here to tackle this issue of second homes and affordability in some of Wales’s communities is to be welcomed.
“There is some sadness that it’s taken so long, of course, with many communities having seen huge depopulation over decades because of the failure of government after government to take the issue seriously and to take action.
“But, better late than never, and this range of policies does provide some hope. It’s also important that the consultation is staged in a balanced and fair way and the right process and timetable followed fully.
“We can’t prejudice the outcome; every voice has to be heard. We can’t, either, risk harming any opportunities we have to take action on any possible solutions.”