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Opinion

Wales has accommodated enough. AirBnBs and second homes are no longer welcome

10 Mar 2024 7 minute read
High concentrations of holiday homes are found near the coast and national parks. Image: The Guardian. Source: Census 2021, ONS. Note: count is by MSOA, a sub-unit of a local authority designated by a number, eg Cornwall 007. MSOAs with a numerical holiday home count below 10 are excluded (grey on the map). Local authority boundaries shown in white

Stephen Price

An article published by the Guardian following the Budget this week contained a shocking graphic which brought to light the high concentrations of holiday homes found in Wales.

The article focused on Cornwall, where locals say they are on a “cliff edge” due to the sheer number of people with second and third homes – sharing the impact this is having on local schools and businesses.

The stories could have easily been plucked from communities within any of our own coastal areas and national parks.

Famously, Nation.Cymru shared the story of 88-year-old Norman Thomas, the last Welsh speaker in Cwm-yr-Eglwys in Pembrokeshire, who called on the Welsh Government to protect dying communities such as his back in 2021.

What happened next…

Much has happened since – councils across Wales are finally able to increase council tax up to 300% – but the impacts on the ground have yet to be felt. We live next door to a nation with almost twenty times our population after all.

So far, councils have teetered towards a 100% increase – with much applause from people from Wales each time they raise the cost. But is it enough?

A financial deterrent only works for those who don’t have deep pockets. For anyone who can afford the million pound plus price tag of a property in Cwm-yr-Eglwys, this is simply laughable.

Either stop it, or don’t.

The bay at Cwm-yr-Eglwys cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Bill Boaden – geograph.org.uk/p/2582023

In a poignant scene on S4C’s Pobol y Mor (People of the Sea), a fisherman who grew up in Llangrannog talked about how, in the space of a matter of decades, his home village went from being Welsh to English, often to be used as holiday homes and AirBnBs.

His words, spoken matter of fact and bluntly, weren’t embellished – but in scenes of him out on the open shore afterwards in search of crabs and solace, what he didn’t say and how he visibly looked – his pauses and his silences – were just as powerful.

The story is the same across Wales. We see it happening in front of our eyes – the hollowing out of our communities, eye-watering property prices, the houses used as investments or crash pads for the rich.

But we mustn’t connect the dots.

Tristwch

The last time I wrote a piece about the housing crisis facing Wales, I was accused of being jealous.

How dare someone have an opinion about an injustice facing countless people who can’t afford to live in the places they were born, or where they wish to work even.

That’s how the world works nowadays – throw as powerful a label as you can at someone and get them to shut up. Only Wales has been meek and kind and has shut up for too long to its own detriment.

We’re a nice bunch, often too nice. And where does it get us?

Many properties in my own home village are now holiday homes and AirBnBs – and I’m told this is somehow good for the local economy. I have yet to see evidence of that being the case, but I must remember to thank their absent owners if I ever get the chance to meet them.

Michael Sheen’s rousing speech from 2017 – “Make us a theme park, make us a folk museum.. Accommodate. Accommodate. Accommodate,” made mention of this go-to default mode to not ruffle feathers, to be polite and “act like it doesn’t matter”.

We can talk about it amongst ourselves, but to publicly raise concerns about house prices, families in emergency accommodation or on the streets while they wait for a place to call home, or the scourge of holiday homes across the country is to be compared (as I have been – credit to them, I do like a nice roast) to characters from the League of Gentlemen.

But Welsh people have accommodated enough.

We’ve all had enough. And our Cardiff-based leaders need to listen.

I missed the chance to go to Llangrannog’s summer camp in the first years of high school, but went for the first time during the Sixth Form, determined to use more Welsh and try it out on the locals.

If only I’d spoken to the fisherman before.

My first ‘shwmae’ with a ‘local’ was met with a blank stare and a very un-Welsh silence. And every coastal holiday since has shown that complete contrast with the familiar Welshness of the valleys I’ve grown up with.

Llandudno and Aberystwyth offer a similar, ‘Oh…’ scratched head feeling whenever I visit. And in my forty plus years of holidays in, and life lived within, Wales’ coastal and national park communities, their once vibrant Welshness seems to be diminishing rapidly.

Global issue

This isn’t a local shop for local people, it’s a proud nation of welcoming people, but a people who recognise injustice and unfairness as much as any other.

While our own people wait for a safe, warm roof above their heads, it’s frankly offensive to have our housing stock sit empty outside of the holiday season or to find a depressing new lease of life as a boutique AirBnB.

And this is not just a Welsh issue.

In an article for Business Insider from last year, Isabel Heine, a 40-year-old attorney from Queens, New York explained why she no longer used AirBnBs, referring to them as “morally sketchy”.

She said: “I saw what it was doing to local housing markets, including my home in New York City, where there were more Airbnb listings than available apartments in 2022.

“And it wasn’t just New York — in Mexico City, Americans were renting apartments or Airbnb by Americans at prices that many locals couldn’t afford.”

“Off you trot!”

She finished: “Maybe it’s the bias of my social circle — I work at a social-justice organisation — but it seems like the tide is turning away from AirBnBs.

“We want to be aware of the effects our decisions have on our wallets and on other people. AirBnB just doesn’t align with us anymore, financially or morally.”

The tide really has turned.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg are currently calling for the introduction of an Article 4 Directive for the whole of Eryri.

The introduction of this policy would make planning permission mandatory before changing the use of a property from a main home to a second home or short-term letting accommodation.

Gwyn Siôn Ifan, Chair of the Gwynedd and Môn Region of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said: “The significant number of second homes and short-term holiday accommodation in Eryri – around 17% of the entire housing stock – is a symptom of the inequality of an open housing market which undermines the sustainability of communities and threatens the future of Welsh as a living language.

“According to a report prepared for the Planning Committee, 65% of Eryri’s entire population have been priced out of their own housing market.”

Half measures

I personally don’t think they’re going far enough. AirBnBs and holiday homes must no longer be a part of our national story and both need an outright ban.

And on top of that, in Gwyn Siôn Ifan’s words, “Ultimately, the housing system must be transformed at its core by introducing a Property Act which would treat houses as essential social assets and put the housing needs of communities before profit.”

If anyone wishes to enjoy a break in our country, or any other country for that matter, book a hotel or stay at a holiday resort and actually support local people.

And if you miss the dog, find a dog-friendly one. It’s that easy.

Call me, or anyone else asking for fairness for Welsh communities, what you want, but close the door on your way out.


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Richard Davies
Richard Davies
30 days ago

I agree 100% with this article!

Second, third, etc. homes must be banned.

I would be happy to see those that currently exist being confiscated to eradicate homelessness once and for all!

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
30 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

You have one backside and only one place to put it, they’re not second homes, they’re second houses used to either secure a place of retirement for the city rich or an excuse to avoid trying to find a hotel during the busy season of sun. These gready people are the sort that will never be satisfied no matter how much they’re given but instead take take take. They will make us look bad for complaining, they’ll make us Welsh people look as if it’s wrong to stand up for ourselves, rather they’d prefer that we roll over and die… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
29 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Thomas

It’s important to emphasise that this isn’t a nationality thing. A Welsh exploiter is still an exploiter!

Caitlin o Hara
Caitlin o Hara
29 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

… so it’s up to those who have worked to afford their property to just give it to those who don’t have … why isn’t it your previous governments job to do this? They steal enough of our taxes… What do you personally do to eradicate homelessness Richard if you think this is the correct way forward? Could you give a homeless person a room in your house perhaps?

ci du
ci du
29 days ago
Reply to  Caitlin o Hara

Second home owners won’t be made homeless. Because they have another home. On the other hand, you are taking the homes from people who also work, who would otherwise be able to afford those houses. It is, in fact, you who are the cause of homelessness.

Caitlin o Hara
Caitlin o Hara
29 days ago
Reply to  ci du

There’s a big difference between second homes and air b and bs . It’s up to folk to choose how they earn their crust and if that is doing holiday let’s then so be it. There’s plenty of affordable accommodation in wales … more so than in the rest of the uk. Wouldn’t we all want to live in a house by the sea. Most of us can’t afford that so we live somewhere else … a town terrace, a park home. It’s tough but whoever told you life is fair told ye a lie

JNRM
JNRM
29 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

There are over 1000 properties currently for sale in N Wales at under £150K. The reason some locals can’t even afford to.pay these cheap prices is because they can’t get a mortgage as they dont have full time salaried employment. Nothing to do with availability, the answer is Jobs! The four second homes near me were all derelict, locals didn’t want to live in them because they were not convenient for schools and shops. But for the second home owners pouring £100Ks into rebuilding them they would now be ruins. The large increase in holiday lets was triggered by the… Read more »

Rob
Rob
29 days ago
Reply to  JNRM

Saving for a deposit is not easy. Cost of living means disposable incomes are very low and for many non-existent. My income is all over the place as I’m effectively self-employed with a low income, I can get a mortgage but without help I’d never save 5% for the deposit.

Dave Lewis
Dave Lewis
30 days ago

Enough is enough. So many people in Pembrokeshire are living in caravans sheds or other people’s sofas it’s ridiculous.

Gaynor
Gaynor
30 days ago

Excellent article. the concept of Air Bnb was great to start, open your home to visitors and make some cash. I did it myself, rented out a room in my house for holiday makers which helped me when I was financially strapped for a few years and I made some great friends through it. Showing my visitors a slice of real Welsh life. But its run amok. Put Burry Port into the Airbnb search now and you get 1000 properties in the vicinity, granted some of them are hosted, Now its holiday home central. But back in 2010 I was… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
29 days ago
Reply to  Gaynor

I agree with you, the initial idea behind AirBnB is actually a good one, allowing as it does ordinary local people to make a little extra from a spare room in the summer season, just as my mother used to take in B&B guests in the summers of the early 1970s. Her mother, my grandmother, used to go a step further, and let out the whole house in the summer months, and herself and my grandfather live in the garage! I could never understand why, as they certainly weren’t exactly short of a bib or two, yet not rich.

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
30 days ago

An inventory of property ownership in general in Cymru would make sobering reading.

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
30 days ago
Reply to  Rhosddu

Yes, let’s draft up a map of property and who owns the lot. How can we say Wales is our country if most of the land is owned by non home brew?

Matthew Paul
Matthew Paul
28 days ago
Reply to  Rhosddu

Something like the Land Registry? What a brilliant idea.

L. Edwards
L. Edwards
30 days ago

“book a hotel or stay at a holiday resort” I’ve no objection to old-fashioned private B+B’s nor to people converting an unused outbuilding where they live. Gets money to people who live here more reliably than using hotels and resorts owned by companies based goodness-knows-where

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
29 days ago
Reply to  L. Edwards

There are also community initiatives such as Llety Arall in Caertnarfon and Y Pengwern in Llan Ffestiniog where local people derive benefit from the venture.

If the Welsh Government want to develop tourism and hospitality in these areas if could do a lot worse than championing this form of hyperlocal enterprise where it is local people who derive maximum benefit, retaining and spending the proceeds in the local economy.

Last edited 29 days ago by Padi Phillips
Sikejsudjek
Sikejsudjek
29 days ago

The problem with the present system is that it doesn’t stop the very wealthy from owning second homes, but hits locals who want to use an annex as temporary holiday accommodation.

James Last
James Last
29 days ago

Is that the same Michael Sheen who is so keen on immigration and refugees? Where would he like them to live? Presumably not in Wales? Or just in the less desirable parts of Wales? The cognitive dissonance is almost unbelievable, but hey. Nothing new from this Marxists

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
29 days ago

Agree with this article, second homes and air b&b has to be stopped. My friends son is living in one room in a Holiday Inn with two young children because he cannot secure an affordable home. Disgraceful. A property tax would help alongside a 500% increase to council tax for second homes and air bnb. Make second hones as unaffordable for the greedy rich as it is for ordinary Welsh people.

ci du
ci du
29 days ago

There is a simple solution that Cymru has used before.

Eliza
Eliza
28 days ago
Reply to  ci du

Are you really suggesting arson?! Then we end up with empty and derelict buildings in rural areas as happened in the 70’s to 90’s. I moved here years ago my Dad is Welsh and we bought two ruins, no roofs, completely derelict… There were many others in our valley in Carmarthenshire…You couldn’t even see one of ours as it was covered in trees and massive brambles A few in our village still are derelict. We spent years and blood, sweat and tears literally bringing them back to life. . One is now a holiday cottage (let out for all of… Read more »

Rob jones
Rob jones
29 days ago

Yes get rid of second home owners and property developers buying to rent out at inflated prices

Ap Kenneth
29 days ago

There are a small number of properties that while not on holiday parks have been built on farms or converted from old farm buildings so that farmers can supplement there income. I have stayed in a couple down in Ceridigion. Just to make it clear that it is not always black and white, personally I think those properties held as second homes and used just a few weeks a year are the worst for the local economy and housing market.

NowThen
NowThen
28 days ago

The situation is complex as some of these businesses are owned by locals. From my own personal experience when renovating a house as a holiday let I made sure that all the workers who helped renovate it were locals and the cleaner who now handles the changeovers is also a local. While renovating I was contacted randomly by three people from over the border who had somehow got my number and wanted to buy or rent the property as a full term let because at the time they wanted to escape Covid19. It’s safe to assume that if I had… Read more »

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
28 days ago

What is needed are good, well paid jobs in coastal and countryside areas. Artificially manipulating the housing market won’t work. Unfortunately, if people don’t have a particularly level of income they cannot afford a particular type of home. My first house was a two up to down terraced house in the valleys. I couldn’t even dream about buying a house on the coast in Wales.

Doctor Trousers
28 days ago

people suggesting the solution is jobs. well that all seems very reasonable, but can you explain how you’re going to go about it? how is a local business supposed to stay afloat when the area is only populated half the year? Where are they supposed to find any staff to work for them? Even aside from second homes and holiday homes, in any area where the property values are going up and up and up, who exactly is supposed to staff your local pubs and small business, when the sort of person who would take a job in a pub,… Read more »

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
28 days ago

There are many job opportunities in the knowledge economy. Jobs that are not reliant on a local market. Jobs in IT, jobs in the design of products, the manufacturing of high tech products, research in the green economy, jobs in cutting edge science (agricultural and food science) etc all jobs that have an international market not a local market. We in Cymru should be aspirational about job creation in coastal and rural areas. Does that help answer your question?

Eliza
Eliza
28 days ago
Reply to  Cwm Rhondda

I agree … But should is the key word that you use.
Because the reality is we are not.
Our small rural town is dying it was vibrant and bustling but then with all the banks closing, the pandemic, cost of living crisis, high business rates (now 35% higher than across the border) the high street is full of empty units… Grants are supposedly available but the WG makes them virtually impossible for ordinary people to get as so complicated.
No wonder young people move to the bigger towns and cities.
It is incredibly sad 🙁

Paul B
Paul B
28 days ago

I see from the comments that this media title has found a passionate niche audience to monetise! The writer states ‘While our own people wait for a safe, warm roof above their heads’ and here he immediately reveals his Marxist roots.. in the real world people have to fight and work hard for years to be able to afford a safe, warm roof above their heads. He would prefer it that everyone was equally poor than there be inequality. Homelessness in not unique to Wales or the coast or to areas with many second homes, in fact has the writer… Read more »

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