eEarlier this month, residents of Whitstable gathered to discuss a growing crisis – the slow death of their community at the hands of tourists – with the apparent blame on development. of second homes and allows for relaxation.
Locals have listed numerous problems caused by the proliferation of short-term rentals in recent years, from dingy parking and garbage to all-night parties. The seaside town on Kent’s north coast has also seen a steady decline in population year-round, they said, leaving the town feeling “empty”.
It’s a familiar story to anyone living in one of the UK’s holiday hotspots. Around the coast and in popular tourist destinations such as the Cotswolds, the Lake District and parts of Wales, outrage has been brewing for some time.
Locals are increasingly being pushed out by soaring house prices, and the consequences are dire, for both those who have been forced out and those left behind.
Janet Pearson lives in Newlyn, a working fishing port in West Cornwall that has become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years. The street she lives on, a quiet terrace of fisherman cottages, is the perfect place for the Airbnb market.
Individual homes are being sold to investors and rented out for a week or two at a time.
“It’s cancer the way it spreads,” she said. “When I first moved here 10 years ago, every house on my street was inhabited, with several families and quite a few children. During the lockdown, two homes became vacation homes, then more.
“It’s sad in the winter. When I drew the curtains at night and looked out, the houses opposite were dead. There is no light in them at all. It makes me feel very isolated.”
Just 10 miles away, the honeyed resort of St Ives has struggled with the pressures of overtourism for decades. In 2016, the town became one of the first towns in the country to try to legislate against the wave, voting through Policy H2, which states that newly built homes can only be sold as a “primary residence”.
Others have followed: the Cornish towns of Fowey and Mevagissey, as well as Brighton, Whitby, Scarborough and parts of Norfolk.
Few people want to eliminate tourists entirely – many of the UK’s more remote regions are almost entirely dependent on tourism to boost their economies. But the prevailing mood is that a balance needs to be made, and soon.
Janet Jefferson, an independent councilor representing Castle Ward of Scarborough, is one of those pushing for greater consideration for local interests.
“In some areas, there may be only two or three people living permanently on a road. It also reduces the amount of property available to ordinary families,” she said.
“A lot of landlords are giving Section 21 notices, so people have to move out of homes they may have lived in for two decades to be able to rent out for the holidays. After that, it was very difficult for them to find something to rent.
“I’m not criticizing people who want to go on vacation – there’s nothing wrong with that. But you lose the community. In Whitby, Robin Hood Bay, places like that, young people can’t afford to buy anything because they’re being snapped up by investors.”
The problem with mechanisms like Policy H2 is that it doesn’t address the root of the problem.
While it’s clearly a good thing that new construction projects are preserved for those who live and work in the area, most holiday permitting investors are after historic homes. and more atmospheric – houses often make up the heart of any town. But for now, it’s pretty much the only tool local governments have.
The government has promised to help pass the Upgrade Bill, which is currently being passed by Parliament. This would allow local councils to double the rate councils pay on second homes, as has been the case in Wales since 2017. Whitby and Scarborough voted to pass the measures as soon as possible. they are passed into law.
But critics are skeptical about how much of an impact this will have on the community crisis.
The Welsh Government has now raised interest rates again at a premium of 300%, but the policies have had little effect on holiday rental owners, who are instead subject to the rate. business rates (and most can claim 100 as small businesses).
Campaigners are more optimistic about the latest proposal from Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Upgrades, Housing and Communities, who last month announced a new policy requiring property owners to ask for permission. planning to convert houses into resorts.
“I think it’s a good idea,” says Cath Navin, one of the founders of Cornwall-based First Not Second Homes. “Local councils will be able to say no more holidays are allowed. It would prevent people from investing in real estate purely like a dairy cow.
“But it’s something that will only work fully as part of a series of measures, including the return of other homes allowing for the long-term.”