Politics writer Cerith Rhys Jones reports on the rise of holiday homes in North Wales, and the possible impact on the local economy.
Figures from the 2011 Census released last week show that Gwynedd, in North Wales, has more second homes per permanent resident than any other county in England in Wales. While no previous figures are available for comparison, the revelation that 64 people have a second home in the North-West Wales county per 1,000 usual residents has been met with disdain in some quarters.
Organised interests including Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales), the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society), and Cymuned, a pressure-group dedicated to protecting the welfare of Welsh communities, have all expressed concern at the figures released by the Office for National Statistics. It was found that other Welsh counties also had a high rate of second homes. Gwynedd’s neighbour to the north, Anglesey, had 41 per 1,000, while Pembrokeshire in the South West had 35 per 1,000, Ceredigion, Conwy, and Powys had 30, 28, and 20 per 1,000 respectively.
The Welsh Government was measured in its response to the figures, noting its opinion that that while second homes can have benefits for tourism and the local economy, they can also have adverse consequences in some parts of Wales.
One of those consequences, according to Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, is the decline of Welsh-speaking communities. Toni Schiavone, from Cymdeithas, commented: “According to the last Census, there was a significant drop in the number of communities where over 70 per cent of the population speak Welsh. We foresee that Welsh-speaking communities will decline further if we don’t see radical changes to the planning and economic system. [The Welsh Government] must safeguard the housing market for local people and ensure that planning policies give due regard to the implications of summer homes in communities, [in order to ensure the future of Welsh-speaking communities]”.
Lib Dem AM for North Wales Aled Roberts struck a similar chord in his response to the findings, noting: “Gwynedd is a beautiful part of Wales and it is not surprising that many people want to have a second home in the county. However, I am very concerned that as more and more people move to the county, this pushes up the price of homes and makes it difficult for young people who live in the area to buy their first house. A balance is needed between providing affordable homes for local people and ensuring that Gwynedd can continue to attract the tourists that are so vital to the economy”.
The figures show that 12,012 people own holiday homes in Gwynedd. Cymuned, the Welsh-communities pressure group, responded: “It is shocking to hear that Gwynedd has the highest percentage of holiday homes in [England and Wales], and it is now clear that Gwynedd council must lead the way in dealing with this damaging problem by increasing council tax on holiday homes to 200 or 300 per cent, and by ring-fencing the extra income for affordable housing projects”.
Increasing the rate of council tax on second homes is an idea supported by the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, who represents the South Wales Central region, covering Cardiff.
The day after the figures were published, Ms Wood posted on twitter: “#Gwynedd is county with most holiday homes (Eng&Wal) Extra council tax needed on 2nd homes. #PartyOfWales #plaidcymru”.
Indeed, the leader of Plaid Cymru on Gwynedd Council has called on the Welsh Government to give his local authority, led by his party, the power to raise council tax on second homes by up to 200 per cent. It remains to be seen whether the Labour-led Welsh Government will adhere to his wishes, but the administration says that it is in the process of considering the statistics, “with regard to possible implications for government policy”.
Cerith Rhys Jones