Opinion

YesArfor? If the Welsh Government won’t act to save our communities, it may be time to demand further autonomy

02 Jun 2021 6 minutes Read
A demonstration against second homes on the A55 through Anglesey on Saturday, May 29. Photo – Wynne Evans.

Ifan Morgan Jones

It’s hard to overstate the existential crisis facing our communities in the west and north of Wales at the moment.

This morning the story of one community in Pembrokeshire where only two of 50 houses are not second homes has shocked readers.

But such a future seems to face communities across the rural north and west of Wales, and not just seaside areas where the current problem is most acute.

Just in my own corner of Ceredigion – 10 miles inland – houses that four years ago were selling in the £200k bracket are now firmly in the £300k bracket.

In an area with low wages, a housing market that was previously unaffordable to all but the highest earners is now essentially inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t made their money elsewhere.

Me and my partner were lucky enough to hop on the housing market just after the 2008 crash when it was possible to do so for a couple with a job each. My own children, if things carry on as they are, have essentially no hope of ever affording property here and will be turfed out of their own community.

This is an issue across the country of course but in this part of Wales there is a crucial cultural issue too. These are the only communities where Welsh remains a community language.

The Welsh Government can strive to reach 1 million Welsh speakers, but without Welsh speaking communities the language faces a bleak future as something many can speak but most very seldom have the opportunity to do.

It isn’t simply the invisible hand of the market at work here and something that government cannot do anything about.

In fact, the Welsh Government’s own measures seem to have contributed to the issue. A recent report showed that its Help to Buy loan was mostly taken advantage of by those with an average household income of £40,000+.

While there may not be one single bullet solution to the problem as the First Minister says, there are a number of bullets that can be fired to start off with – including Plaid Cymru’s own five point plan.

No one is saying that there are easy solutions. But the main issue is that the Welsh Government just doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get to grips with the problem, which has been ongoing for decades.

The situation we find ourselves in now isn’t a shock: These communities have been like boiling frogs for decades, it’s just that the Covid crisis has suddenly turned up the heat and made everyone sit up and take notice.

Even before the Senedd election, a petition calling on the Welsh Government to act was dismissed because “enforcement would be really difficult and create uncertainty”.

I’m also concerned that there may be more than a hint of ideological antipathy by the Labour Government towards these communities, too. It was Mark Drakeford himself who described the Welsh speaking heartlands as “Poujadist” – conservative and reactionary – as recently as 2012.

If the Welsh Government just fundamentally does not recognise the problem as one that needs an immediate political solution, what is to be done?

Peripheral

One solution might be to insist on a measure of autonomy over matters such as the language, housing and the economy for this part of Wales.

There are good arguments for Wales to adopt a more regionally devolved model anyway. There is no good reason why we need to ape the UK-model of concentrating all the political power in one part of the country.

As economist Prof. Calvin Jones pointed out: “The economic structure of post-industrial South Wales is wholly unlike that of still-industrial North East Wales with different (and completely separate) labour markets, skills needs and geographic orientations. Anyone who works often in North West Wales knows it is economically (and to some extent socio-culturally) another country.”

In that same article he argues for real devolution from Cardiff to the regions of Wales. He points to the wealthy Basque country where powers are devolved to three regions and 250 municipalities.

This devolution of powers to the regions would be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, as there is little disagreement that Wales is currently overrepresented at a local authority level.

We have 22 councils, which are far too many. Wales would do perfectly fine with four or five more powerful Swiss-style cantons: Cardiff Capital Region, Swansea City Region, North and West, and a North East regions.

This is a plan that would also crucially have support at a UK Government level to bring about. After all the Conservatives have recently been going on about the need for ‘true devolution’ to empower Wales at a local level.

Yes, the Conservatives’ line of argument is on one hand a rather transparent attempt to undermine the Welsh Government. But on the other they do have a point that parts of the north of Wales in particular feel politically peripheral to Cardiff.

Ultimately, all the arguments that apply to devolution for Wales – that the central government is politically unrepresentative and has little understanding of peripheral regions, also applies to parts of Wales too. Labour’s complete dominance is based on a vote which is mostly geographically concentrated in one part of the country.

The rural west of Wales is, at a Senedd and Westminster, almost a Labour-free zone – represented only by a few list Senedd members.

The Welsh Government may well not be keen on further devolution – for the exact reason that the UK Government isn’t keen on the Welsh Government. No one likes giving power away. But ultimately, like devolution itself, if enough voters get behind the idea, they don’t have much of a choice.

Demonstration in Nefyn on Saturday, May 1 on the issue of second home ownership in the area. By Sion Bryn Evans.

Semi-autonomous

One idea put forward by current Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price in the past – but subsequently little talked about – is that on an Arfor region.

It briefly flickered back into life at one point a few years ago due to confidence and supply deals between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government.

Is it time perhaps now to take it a step further, with Arfon becoming a semi-autonomous region within Wales with some powers over housing, the economy and language?

Is it time for YesArfor?

This is not, of course, an argument for an independent north and west of Wales. It isn’t an argument for a greater independent Gwynedd. That would be daft.

Wales should remain a single political unit and as many powers as possible should remain at our national Parliament and our national government.

But with devolution now on a more stable footing after 20 years, perhaps now is the time for Wales to see some of the decentralisation that is so common in other European countries, and away from the hyper-centralisation that so often characterises UK politics.

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Llywelyn ein Llyw Nesaf
Llywelyn ein Llyw Nesaf
20 days ago

“Wales should remain a single political unit and as many powers as possible should remain at our national Parliament and our national government” Yes to a single political unit, but surely it should be “as few powers as necessary” should remain in the Senedd and at a national level. 5 regions may well make sense, but only if there is a suitable tier below that. One of the beauties of the community councils is that the members really know their patch. When someone refers to a problem of flooding by the conduit by the phone box, everyone knows exactly what… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
20 days ago

“That doesn’t work when a regional council represents a quarter of the area of the country, even if it’s only a population of a few hundred thousand.” says Llywelyn, and it definitely won’t work with the kind of self important “networkers” that seem to inhabit our local government in representative and officer positions.

CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Almost all political actors under the current system are subject to said system. The more autonomous Cymru becomes, the more subject to the citizen’s will her politicians will have to be. Current examples are imperfect (if not totally illogical) models – a tory AS is still part of a British Conservative and Unionist party, answerable to the broader British establishment. A Ceidwadwr Cymraeg in a decentralised (preferably independent) Welsh system will be answerable to the Welsh party, government and citizenship. Rhyddid Nawr

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
20 days ago

Rather than just piecemeal devolution (UK style) let Wales go the full way with a federal system. Each region will have an assembly and be self governing entities with the right to sent delegates to represent their region in the national parliament at Cardiff in a 2nd chamber. This 2nd chamber will have the right to veto laws passed in the main senedd chamber. This system does work well in Germany and has contributed to economic success there over the last 50+ years. It will also apply checks and balances to the power of central government. We will need a… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
20 days ago

Fair comment, although your last point regarding currency isn’t quite right as ALL the major currencies have played the “modern monetary” game which is why there hasn’t been a notable shift in exchange rates. What has happened is an across the board devaluation of currency in terms of its purchasing power of goods and services i.e inflation. One should disregard “official” inflation figures as these are now manipulated to protect the image of governments. Reflect a little on the price movements of most of the major items in your household expenditure and those shallow rates of inflation bear little or… Read more »

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
20 days ago

Are you really suggesting that we create smaller and smaller enclaves that people you agree with control and thus restrict the personal freedoms of others…..is buying a second house or home such an affront….all my children went away to university, worked and travelled the world…all returned to Wales to continue to earn a living, self employed and buy houses…you need to persuade people who have different perspectives not be defensive and more and more cult like in who you agree with….

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
20 days ago

Maximising an open society where people have the freedom to carry out economic activity, learn new languages and other skills and knowledge……once you become hostile and defensive you immediately reduce the people you persuade…..the language and culture and will survive if you persuade more people of its value….as someone who moved to Wales from England 32 years ago, I do not feel hostile or an enemy to anyone, if the local authority wants to buy houses in the street I live for people on the housing waiting list so be it, likewise if someone wants to buy a second house… Read more »

Shan Morgain
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

I agree with you about live and let live. But the problem with second homes is they plug into a different economy outside the local area. To afford a second home means having a higher income and such buyers put the price up so local people cannot buy. That is the central issue of this article, which has a further effect of breaking up Welsh communities and the language pools.

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
20 days ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

The market is the market, someone will pay a higher price until the last person balks at paying the higher price, of course the state can intervene and pay the that last higher price and allocate the property to someone on low incomes and individual low wealth under some criteria…There are lots of places in Wales I cannot live, would love to live but my income and present wealth is not sufficient…..I can focus on using my knowledge and skills to increase my income or wealth this may involve me moving to access a better income or investing any wealth… Read more »

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

You have radically misunderstood the nature of the holiday home crisis in Cymru.The market may be the market, but in the specific case of the Bro Gymraeg the market needs regulating. Your globalist approach to the destruction of historic communities is directly at odds with the welfare of those communities, and takes no account of the colonialist nature of the current crisis, nor of the very notion of “community” itself. Bear in mind also that a sense of community is a very important part of Welsh society to a far great extent than in the country you supposedly left behind.… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

Well here we go, another ride on my most hated roller-coaster; ‘the devil’s advocate’. In a broader sense I agree with some of Mr. Luckock’s positions. I too do not believe that anyone has a divine right to live exactly where one wishes too. But, and it is a big but, that is a higher order principle that only applies as an ideal. The situation in y Fro is far from ideal, allowing for liberals like myself to allow for intervention in order to rectify a situation which is clearly not ideal. I’m not convinced of the cultural degradation (numbers… Read more »

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
20 days ago
Reply to  CJPh

You acknowledge the point I am making, if you do not want the West of Wales to be prescribed in large part by the tourism economics, people need to create new investment and economic activity that competes and ensures their are a wider variety to create good incomes and wealth. If young people see an unattractive future locally they will move to opportunities that are more attractive elsewhere, I want to trust young people to know what is best for them, their response will be diverse , they will create whatever their view of community is….

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
20 days ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

I have no wish to destruct any communities, historic or not but if you create an authoritarian governance that restricts many aspects of personal freedom you will attract very few supporters, people and communities change and adapt all the time. I did not leave England for negative reasons, it was just right at the time for my family and for care and support reasons for a family member with Welsh heritage. At the same time I could have moved to other places globally because of my sense of community and belonging. As you can tell from my name I come… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

To clarify, I agree in principle, but not in practice. Given the current state of affairs, any growth will only be measured in the personal, maybe the institutional (much rarer) but not the national. Any ‘national’ growth is actually regional, with much capital quickly absorbed and extracted by the broader nation state – the UK. Most constituent regions/countries that gain independence from a larger federation find themselves better off quite soon after their emancipation (if they democratize;it’s more complex for, say, many parts of the former USSR, but Cymru wouldn’t be emerging from such a system). Any blame we can… Read more »

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
19 days ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

What you describe as authoritarianism is nothing more than legal safeguards to protect vulnerable communities in the Fro from one of the worst manifestations of the ‘soft colonialism’ that has been Wales’ lot since the growth of tourism after the war. Other countries in the liberal democratic world have adopted such measures. Why pick on Wales for wanting to adopt similar measures? But you’re right about the need for Wales to develop an economy of its own; a colonial economy is never intended to benefit the colony. If/when the second home crisis has been solved, the economy of those regions… Read more »

Gloyw
Gloyw
19 days ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

The market is the market… Are you not aware that free markets are a tool? If your tool is broken you replace it. Markets are a means, not an end.

Mr Mark Rhydderch-Roberts
Mr Mark Rhydderch-Roberts
20 days ago

Wales would do fine with devolved political power. Unfortunately devolved political power in this context means the capture of power by deluded marxists whose only purpose is to maintain power, control and oppress. Second home ownership by those nasty English/Tories/Westminster etc is only a symptom. Welsh people cannot afford homes because the average wage in Wales is less than 70% of the UK. Why? no not because of Mrs Thatcher/nasty Tories/English – its because decades of socialism and anti English policies have pauperised the country and destroyed our enterprise, our aspiration and our economy. Houses remain cheap in Blaenau Gwent… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago

Anti English policies keep Wales poor? So, the tory government decision not to electrify the railway to Swansea is because the Welsh are mean to the English? So… Spite? The lack of any hope that a young person from Gwynedd or Mon can own a home where they grew up is because the Frankfurt School keeps them poor? Uh huh. Ireland is doing well because…erm…ahem…let’s not look at Ireland. Or any other small to medium European nation. Wales is crippled by that pesky ghost of Marx! And we would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that pesky… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
20 days ago

Drakeford won’t have it.

Roberto
Roberto
20 days ago

20+ years of labour in power in Cardiff Bay and all the time sitting on their hands on this issue whilst making grandstanding promises of one million Welsh speakers. The problem being that labour is first and foremost an unionist party that would rather see Welsh communities vanish than risk the precious union. A rapid change of heart is needed (perhaps labour will ultimately doom itself in Wales as even the communities in South Wales labour heartlands are slowly but surely being swamped by buyers/renters from England most of whom either won’t vote or will vote for the conservatives). I… Read more »

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
20 days ago

Yes we want more autonomy – full autonomy. For every part of Cymru. Certain powers for certain regions is not only unworkable but will just enable Westminster to further divide us.

Charles Evans
Charles Evans
19 days ago

Why do I get the feeling that the Cymraeg Supremacists won’t stop with “second home owners”, but continue on to the ‘wrong sort’ of residents…? Plenty of comments on this website are already disdainful of people who aren’t perceived as being ‘Welsh enough’.

Last edited 19 days ago by Charles Evans
CJPh
CJPh
19 days ago
Reply to  Charles Evans

Perhaps it’s because you view an individual utterance as indicative of a whole group’s perspective? The ire is, typically, not aimed at individuals who own second/holiday homes but at the loss of community and economic angst. There are plenty of people who fall outside your perceived bloc of ‘Cymraeg supremacists’ who are equally appalled by the situation. It is you who is being bigoted, Charles. No group regards you, or anyone else, as not Welsh enough. Those who do hold such beliefs are a minority of a minority. Now, those who hate/patronise/are ignorant of Welsh culture… There’s more than a… Read more »

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
19 days ago
Reply to  Charles Evans

It’s merely about locals being displaced by outsiders in a tourist-based economy. The same could apply equally well in Devon, the Lake District, or indeed any white-flight magnet. Self-evidently, the problem has the added dimension of being partly about the indigenous people of one country (and their language) being displaced by people largely — but not exclusively — from another because of the Darwinian free-for-all of an unregulated housing market. The issue of “supremacy” has never come into that equation.

Last edited 19 days ago by Wrexhamian
CJPh
CJPh
19 days ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

Well, the relative merits and demerits of an unregulated housing market aside, the current system is undoubtedly due to and unresolvable because of Cymru’s place in this Union. What Charles calls ‘supremacy’ is the continued existence of our language. It is a classic ploy used against minority communities that were persecuted but gain a degree of freedom/relief (usually down to their own hard work)

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
19 days ago
Reply to  CJPh

I’m adding “Cymraeg supremacists”, along with Lisa Nandy’s “narrow nationalists” to my list of unionist favourites.
You’re right, of course, that an independent Cymru would have been able to nip holiday homes for non-citizens in the bud years ago. Poland, an independent democracy since the fall of the USSR, quickly adopted a law preventing non-citizens from buying property in the country for ten years.

Last edited 19 days ago by Wrexhamian
William Dolben
William Dolben
15 days ago

I think some regulation is needed on second homes and it isn’t about supremacism, Wrexhamian. St. Ives in Cornwall and the Lake District are not really being supremacist when they seek to protect the rights of locals to live where they were born. I think many have resisted the Arfor idea after seeing the failure of the Gaeltacht. More recently we have witnessed the almost complete collapse of Gaelic in the Western Isles. Ditto fro Breton where intergenerational transmission ceased long before the second home invasion of Brittanny. In these cases second homes and “white settlers” cannot take the blame.… Read more »

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