‘Under tremendous strain’: Should second home premium cash stay in affected communities?
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
Gwynedd’s full council has rejected calls for the proceeds of the second home council tax premium to be ring-fenced and spent only in those communities where most of it is collected.
The motion would have seen the cabinet asked to retain at least the bulk in areas such as Abersoch, Aberdyfi, Porthmadog, Nefyn, Ffestiniog, Aberdaron, Barmouth and Tywyn at the expense of others such as Caernarfon, Ogwen and Dyffryn Nantlle.
But some, mainly on the Plaid Cymru ruling benches, described such moves as a “postcode lottery.”
The 100% premium is levied on long term empty and second properties, essentially doubling how much they pay in council tax.
It has been earmarked to help fund the authority’s £77m housing action plan to help first time buyers onto the market and release more available stock as part of various projects across the county.
Nefyn councillor Gruffydd Williams, who sits as an independent, referred to the existing housing crisis and called on the cabinet to “earmark all funds on meeting the needs of the residents who live in the areas where the housing crisis is at its worst, namely in those areas where the majority of the tax premium is collected.”
His motion went on to state: “Welsh Government encourages local authorities to use any additional revenue generated by charging the premium to assist with meeting the local housing needs, in accordance with the objectives of the premiums policy.
“Whilst accepting that the council does not have to do this, it is the right thing to do, and it is what is expected by the majority of council members and the wider public.”
Others agreed, with Cllr Owain Williams stating that many in more urban wards “could not comprehend the scale of the issues facing parts of Llŷn and coastal Meirionnydd.”
Adding they were under “tremendous strain,” Cllr Williams referred to the recent “obscene” marketing of £1m apartments in Abersoch when “many locals couldn’t afford a fracion of that amount.”
Abersoch councillor Dewi Wyn Roberts added his view that the authority had been “treading water” so far, and “very little” had been witnessed in villages such as his with a chronic lack of affordable housing.
But Cllr Cai Larsen stated he had a “fundamental problem” with the issue of spending money only where it was raised, likening it to Gwynedd spending the bulk of its treasury on the Menai corridor at the expense of the south.
Described by Cllr Ioan Thomas as a “postcode lottery,” Cllr Nia Jeffreys said that affordable housing was “an issue which knows no boundaries,” with the spillover also being felt within her urban ward in Porthmadog.
Housing portfolio holder, Craig ab Iago, said it would be expected that the bulk of the proceeds would be spent in the areas most in need, with the likelihood it would include areas where most of the premium is generated.
Bangor councillor Richard Medwyn Jones added: “There are big issues here with over 2,000 on the city’s waiting list.
“If we stuck to this same principle I could put a motion forward that Bangor’s money stays in Bangor, but that’s what this is all about.”
But Cllr Williams, summing up, said: “Over 90% of the people of Dwyfor, coastal Meirionnydd and areas such as Llanberis can no longer afford to live in their communities.
“I hope Cllr Cai Larsen and Craig ab Iago (housing portfolio holder) will provide enough homes in Caernarfon, the golden banana, for all of us because there won’t be any young people living in the Dwyfor at the rate the cabinet is dealing with this crisis.”
But his motion fell by 25 votes to 15, with 13 abstentions.
Subsequent amendments earmarking a percentage rather than the full proceeds be ring-fenced, were also defeated.
Council leader Dyfrig Siencyn reiterated that £23m of the six year £77m Housing Action Plan was to be derived from the second homes premium, describing the debate as “nonsense.”
Its targets include creating over 1500 new homes for Gwynedd residents and buying 72 social houses for let while also extending the help to buy scheme.
“Let’s crack on to conclude these projects without delay, and make sure we house local people, rather than create unnecessary obstacles to addressing the need, wherever it may be,” he concluded.