Second homes in rural Wales – should we change the locks, or change the tune?

Tenby harbour. Photo by Beata Mitręga on Unsplash

Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins

If it’s ‘coronavirus holiday’ season in rural Wales, the forecast is frosty for second home owners. From spreading the virus and skipping lockdown to unfairly claiming business relief, second home owners have had bad pandemic press. MP Liz Saville-Roberts and Gwynedd Leader Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn are among those calling Cardiff and Westminster to crack down. Is it time to change the locks on second homes?

Over forty years ago, the great Welsh cultural theorist Raymond Williams observed that every urban dystopia has its rural idyll. Coronavirus has given wide green space a whole new appeal compared to cramped city lockdown. Boris Johnson, Prince Charles and the Queen are currently all taking the country air.

Slipping the city worked out less well for Catherine Calderwood. Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer was forced to resign after being dobbed in for flouting her own lockdown advice and weekending at her second home.

Here in rural Wales, curtain twitching is also having a comeback. I’ve caught myself glaring at suspiciously shiny cars passing my (only) home on the road to Snowdonia. Neighbours have got out the paint. ‘GO HOME!’ warn signs stuck to gates and fences – written in English, of course.

Two ingredients are simmering here. The first is privilege; the second, identity. Viruses don’t care about money, but the current crisis lays inequalities bare. Seeing some enjoy a second home when so many others cannot afford (or even have) a first leaves a bitter taste. The taste turns sour when privilege crosses the border to Welsh communities struggling to keep their young people, their livelihoods, and their language.

 

Symptom

Research from the UK and elsewhere does suggest that second home owners contribute to the rural economy. The difference is often down to demand. Second home owners spend on local shops and tradespeople. They don’t send their kids to the village school or take the bus to work. Over the past decade, the nine most rural local authorities in Wales have together closed or merged 140 schools. Welsh rural bus patronage dropped 44% in the five years to 2017. The statistics on rural service deprivation are stark.

But second home owners are a symptom of rural socio-economic change, not the cause – and they’re probably not the tweed-clad bankers we imagine, either. Differences in relative affordability make urban salaries stretch to buy what lower rural wages often can’t. In research last year, Rhys Dafydd Jones and I interviewed (permanent) incomers to Ceredigion. They told us about trading tiny city flats for three or four bedrooms and a big backyard. They weren’t rich. Their money simply went further in rural Wales.

Not all second home owners have snapped up a bargain. Some are keeping Nain’s old house in the family. Others have a former first home they can’t sell, or might move back to. We need to be careful about caricaturing second home owners as cashed-up, council-tax dodging fraudsters. This isn’t to say there aren’t people doing well out of loopholes. Rural Wales just has far bigger problems than misappropriated funds.

Reality

The inequalities that let some relax in a Welsh rural idyll while others can’t get a local job, a house or a bus, are long-term and systematic. Spraypainted signs won’t solve these problems, and nor will police stops on the Menai Bridge. While government relief for (genuine) businesses is sorely needed, so is government investment in a better rural deal.

Too often, the rural view from policy windows takes in agriculture, environment and tourism, but misses that rural communities are places where people live – and not just at the weekend. It’s time to change that view, and it’s time to change the far from idyllic realities of rural life. So let’s stop being distracted by those who don’t live here, and start talking fairer futures for those who do.

Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins from Aotearoa / New Zealand and currently a postdoctoral researcher in rural and regional development at Aberystwyth University.

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j humphrys
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j humphrys

‘Rural Wales just has far bigger problems than misappropriated funds’. Yeah, right.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

That a quote typical of those who elect to ignore the big issues and go off looking for something that’s more in tune with the fashionable ishoos of the day, those trendy right on dimwits that feel the need to tell others how to live their lives. Sad but pernicious.

Siôn
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Siôn

U ok hun?

Lionel Jackson
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Lionel Jackson

Similar themes to the argument for open borders. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about providing enough houses for all.

So we keep all the second home buyers coming and be nice to them, as they arrive with their bootloads of ASDA shopping, but we build new housing estates for other people. Some of which also become holiday homes themselves, so we need to build more again and again.

Where does that stop? When you’ve turned Abersoch into a town the size of Aberystwyth?, or even bigger? It’s then not rural any more.

K. K
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K. K

I don’t quite understand the thrust of some of the arguments in the article. How can you compare permanent incomers to second home owners? And how can you say not to be so quick to point the finger when the evidence provided justifies doing so? Holiday homes should be banned. End of. This disease isn’t unique to Wales but by accepting the situation things will only get worse both here elsewhere in Scotland and England.

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

I enjoyed this article save one minor niggle; The spray-painted signs were not an attempt at resolving or highlighting the very real issues the author raises here. Indeed, the article itself does a good job of that. Those signs, the curtain twitching, the ‘are you from ’round here’ type questioning is a response to the many people who have fled large cities to rural Cymru during a pandemic, possibly bringing the virus with them to areas that could not deal with the type of spread seen in major urban centres the world over. The underlying issues are just that –… Read more »

Royston Jones
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‘Go home’ is written in English because the visitors are English. It’s both polite and sensible.

What is the point of this article? It seems the Polly Fillers and the Phil Spaces are taking over Nation.Cymru.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Articles like this are designed to irritate and cause a surge in my B.P However they fail, abysmally. They remind me of those who try to push us down, keep us down, tell us how to live our lives. In a way we must thank Covid-19 for bringing into sharper focus the presumptive nature of these “seasonal invaders” and their values ( or lack of). They have done a good job of making us think about this kind of pollution, this toxic blanket of ignorance and arrogance they use to try and stifle us and our identity. Perhaps the next… Read more »

Siôn
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Siôn

She has as much right as you do to write articles, Royston. I thought you hated this website, what are you doing on it?

Jason Evans
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Jason Evans

Do you see the hypocrisy of your reply. Hey at least you put a bit more thought into than your other reply “U ok hun?”

Mawkernewek
Guest

I get the argument that second-home owners bring in money, but I’m not sure that the numbers really add up. If you’re talking about a property visited by its owners for a few weeks in the summer and a few other weekends, even if they spend on some nice restaurant meals etc. while they’re there, their overall spend is probably in most cases less than a household living there year-round. Even on a purely economic basis, before considering the social benefit of the local community having somewhere to live without having to engage in a lot of new development on… Read more »

Solonge
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Solonge

What is pertinent is that often homes stay empty for want of someone to buy them. Much like large areas of rural France. The young don’t want to settle in the countryside, they wish to live and work where there are jobs, in the cities. The French by and large are delighted the English take these old houses, do them up, spend time in the locale and spend money in supermarkets and garden centres, restaurants and cafe’s. The majority of second home owners are not rolling in money, just people who have a bit of money, maybe left to them… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

France is huge, with millions of people and the Francophonie beyond. Your”Envy” label was worn thin ages ago.
How do you know houses would lie empty? They would just become cheaper. Then locals could buy them.

Ceri
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Ceri

Something else Covid-19 has shown us: globalized markets as practiced thus far and they societal move into ever-expanding cities may well have to be revised, lest a far more serious virus take hold. Flight from the city, contrary to what many may intuit, leads to a ‘city-fication’ of rural towns and villages = more establishments that people can be in close quarters, bars, cafes, restaurants, community centres, all manner of hobby classes, gyms. Our ‘great outdoors’ here in the Tywi Valley and the surrounding area is starting to feel like a cross between West London and another ‘out of town… Read more »

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Kid yourself that it’s envy, if it makes you feel better, but you know the real reasons why Welsh people are sick to death of the whole holiday-home problem. And if these houses “stay empty”, it’s not because local people don’t want them, it’s because an economy based almost entirely on mass tourism provides insufficient well-paid work to encourage young people to stay in the area. But, as you must have realised by now, colonialism (which is exemplified by holiday homes) is not intended for the benefit of the colonised, but for the colonisers.

puzzeled
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puzzeled

what alternative economy do you have up your sleeve

John Young
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John Young

‘The young don’t want to settle in the countryside, they wish to live and work where there are jobs’.

Well, when all the ‘decent’ (you left out that word) jobs are in the cities then they really have little choice about where they settle. A seasonal, minimum wage job that doesn’t pay enough to be able to afford to buy your own home and live a good life in the countryside or move to a city to get a decently paid job.

Not much of a choice is it.

Dadydd du
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Dadydd du

Its not about money its about cultural genocide

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

I think you’re wrong, missus; holiday homes are a driver of rural socio-economic change in the Bro Gymraeg, not a sysmptom. If they are a symptom of anything, it is wider colonial tourism that has been promoted, largely for political reasons, for decades in Cymru by powers that have until now been beyond the nation’s control. The WAG’s decision, reinforced by local councils and the old bill, to curtail the use of Wales as a supposed ‘safe zone’ by non-residents (in effect, to protect the border for the first time ever) represents a significant move by Cardiff Bay in a… Read more »

K. K
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K. K

Maybe the ‘researcher’ would like to take a trip to Harlech whereby there now exists chunks of holiday homes, a dying town, a college closed with a cinema to follow. This was a vibrant town until outsiders bought holiday homes and its effects are felt not only in the local economy and culture but also elsewhere in places outside of Wales in areas such as Cornwall, Cumbria, the West Country and Scottish Highlands. It’s a form of social cancer and no different from the social cleansing that exists with gentrification which also embodies privilege, entitlement, arrogance and aloofness. And to… Read more »

Beth
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Beth

All 2nd home owners pay 90% to 100% of council tax even if they spend only a short time there. They don’t use the schools, garbage collection (much) etc. etc so are not free loading. Many second home owners buy faded semi derelect places locals don’t want. May I ask how many Welsh born people live in England? Maybe this ridiculous xenophobia should be laid to rest.

K. K
Guest
K. K

It isn’t xenophobia as if you read the article fully I have stated that it is a problem that is having a massive social impact not just in Wales but elsewhere in England and Scotland too. Not xenophobic but a social issue. The council tax that is paid isn’t very much when you consider that some have not only registered such properties as businesses but have also taken advantage of the furlough scheme too. They don’t use schools because there aren’t many left but I’m supposed to be thankful that they don’t use the bins much. Wonderful. If you could… Read more »

Johnny Gamble
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Johnny Gamble

So what if many Welsh born people live in England. This is mainly due to economic reasons and lack of sustainable all year round employment that tourism in Wales doesn’t offer. The difference is that Welsh people in England assimilate into the English way of life and don’t force their Welshness on anyone. The same cannot be said the other way around. In many parts of Rural Wales today Welsh people are in the minority and are becoming strangers in their own country. This is not Immigration but Colonisation.

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

You may ask how many Cymry live in England – around half a million, less than 1% of the total population! The next pertinent question would be the inverse; how many English people live in Wales – between 600k and 700k (the next census may even show that there are more than that), which is between 25% up to as high as 33% of the population. Imagine a third of England population was from somewhere else, the prevailing socio-political narratives would be a tad different I’d wager. It is xenophobic to say ‘I don’t like English people because they are… Read more »

John Young
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John Young

You ask how many Welsh born people live in England. I don’t know the answer but if there was a similar proportion of Welsh people living in England as there are English people living in Wales the number would be 12 million. You must understand surely that an English population of 650,000 in a Nation of just over 3 million has an enormous effect on Welsh communities especially when a very large proportion of that number head toward the small towns and villages in the West. And this is not an anti English article. As someone else says in another… Read more »

Jase
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Jase

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like it a duck then its probably a duck

And you are more than probably an Anglophobe ….. happy St Georges day

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

Dydd gwyl Sant Sior hapus, Jase

Jason Evans
Guest
Jason Evans

Here’s the so called “Welshman” wishing someone a “Happy Saint George’s Day” but shouldn’t it be “Aziz George Günü Kutlu Olsun”

Ceri
Guest
Ceri

Well, if we wanted the patron saint of Lloegr (and a few other places) to understand, we’d have to say
χαρούμενη ημέρα του Αγίου Γεωργίου…according to google translate

John Young
Guest
John Young

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that Jase (I presume it’s aimed at me). If i’m an Anglophobe i’m one with a sister married to an Englishman from Harlow and a brother whose partner is from Carlisle. Both lovely people.

I imagine everyone else who read my post understood that all I was doing was explaining the logic of how the huge numbers of English people living in Wales affects our country.

There was no malice at all, simply an explanation of why it’s wrong.

Jonathan Edwards
Guest
Jonathan Edwards

Sloppy thinking. Wringing hands, on the one had this on the other hand that. No action proposed. Writer accepts research that 2nd Homes can be OK. Not what the research actually says. Nordic one had a concrete suggestion ” to discuss whether municipal income taxes should be shared between municipalities, based on the locations of the permanent home and the second home.” Wow! BTW the research saying 2nd homes are OK comes from places with lost of 2nd homes, and seems mere assertion. No surprise really….

RhosColin
Guest
RhosColin

Second homes are like a cancer spreading through many communities not only in Wales but all over the United Kingdom, what we see today is that cancer in it’s middle stages of its development. Second homes aren’t a new phenomena, they have been around for many years certainly into the 1800s, then there were just one or two owned by some well to do English person (but not always) who would exist for two weeks of the year side by side with the community it found itself in, a community with shops, garages, farms, fishermen etc but very rarely would… Read more »

Lindsay Meads
Guest
Lindsay Meads

I’m not sure how you manage to function with such an enormous chip on your shoulder. Have a listen to yourself. Pathetic. Some people have more than you. Get over it.

none welsh
Guest
none welsh

might i suggest instead of mamoth carping you build up industry in these areas of rural idyll, that would provide well paid jobs and stop English wanting to come (and why would they), 2 birds with one stone, sorted!

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

there is nothing to redeem the tourist industry. It rely’s on poorly paid seasonal workers and does nothing for the areas it establishes in reality. (I am speaking from personal experience! ). Most people I know can’t afford a second home.

Ann Owen
Guest
Ann Owen

Whilst there are certainly issues that have to be tackled in rural Wales, with homes at their heart, this article completely misses the point as far as the pandemic is concerned! Go home/Wales is Closed signs are the result of a 3rd factor – fear – fear of communities that the virus is being brought to them, and fear that our health services can’t cope with the current population let alone the increased population due to second-home self isolators, and Covid-19 day trippers completely ignoring the non-essential travel regulation! And on top of that the holiday-home letting that was being… Read more »