WITH scores of tourists flooding the streets and lengthy queues outside restaurants, Wells-next-the-Sea has every appearance of a thriving coastal town.
Outside of London, North Norfolk has the highest percentage of second homes in England at 9.8 per cent – affecting 5,468 of 55,000 homes.
It’s causing financial struggles for businesses during the winter months and staff shortages because workers can’t find affordable homes in the area.
During The Sun’s visit to Wells, locals now brand it “Butlins for the rich” and “Chelsea on Sea” after being priced out and lament losing vital shops because of “sky-high rent”.
‘Dead as a dodo’
Walking down Staithe Street, where the bulk of shops lie before the seafront, it’s clear the area caters for tourists and little is left for those living there.
Locals mourn the loss of their pet shop, framers, sweets shop and the newsagents, which served as “a community hub” to check in and talk.
Sandra Plane, 48, who’s worked in Shoe Stop for seven years, blames “greedy landlords” for the death of businesses, including some that had been there for decades.
“Rents have gone up phenomenally. For one shop it was upped by £100 a week in December and so it’s no longer here after 30 odd years,” she tells The Sun.
“The community spirit is going because of second homes, it’s a massive problem. It’s lovely that they want to live here but they don’t bring money into the town. They are here three weeks out of the year.”
She says Wells is “as dead as a dodo” outside of summer and feels the empty second homes make it harder for businesses to stay afloat.
“It’s a shame,” Sandra tells us. “We need fewer second homes and more homes for locals so we can operate the jobs here instead of people being forced to move further away.
“Rents are really high – everybody’s got really greedy – and there’s no way you could afford to buy a home because we’re all basically on minimum wage.”
‘The storm is not passing’
A survey carried out by Housing Vision found the average gross household income for a couple in Wells was £38,500 and among the lower 25 per cent of earners the average was £18,140.
Councillor Roger Arguile, of Wells Parish Council, tells us: “The [survey] author called the situation a ‘perfect storm’. The trouble is that storms pass. This is not passing. It’s getting worse.”
He cited ONS stats from July 2021 that the median property price was £530,000 and said many could barely afford “a shoebox” sized home.
Councillor Arguile said: “Am I appalled by the fact longer-term tenants have been tipped out of houses in order to make houses used by people coming on holiday? Yes, I am.”
According to Zoopla, the average sold price for a property in Wells over the last 12 months was £524,483.
‘Butlins for the rich’
Fisherman Will Purdy, 29, is among those with little hope of getting on to the property ladder or being able to rent.
He’s noted a vast change in Wells and now refers to it as “Butlins for the rich” because “seaside tat shops” have been replaced by upmarket stores.
Will says there used to be “families from up North” visiting but now it’s Southerners – many of whom have expensive tastes.
He said: “It’s definitely hard. I don’t know the answer because we need tourism, but it means that people can’t afford to live here.
“There’s not a lot of all-year-round employment and eventually it will have a very negative effect because there won’t be staff for pubs and businesses.
“If you come here October to November it’s very quiet and people get laid off or have to survive on seasonal work. It’s almost like a false economy really.”
Will acknowledges second homes are “a massive problem” but admits “for every second home, there’s a local who made a massive profit selling it to them”.
He’s seen friends flee to larger cities because they can’t find well-paid work or affordable places to live and says he was evicted by a landlord who then significantly upped the rent.
“Housing is an absolute nightmare. I live with my nan because I can’t afford to move out, the future is looking pretty bleak,” he said.
“I can’t see myself being able to move out unless I get a girlfriend or a friend to move in with. One friend who owns his home is renting rooms to make ends meet, it’s really hard.”
Along the seafront, Bayley Able, 18, is part-way through his trial week at John’s Rock Shop and joins a roster of younger people filling seasonal jobs.
He’s worked in the area for two years and travels an hour each way from his home, in the village of Guist, but sees no future for himself here.
The part-time student told us: “Wells has gone upmarket. I couldn’t afford to live here, it’s too expensive. The prices are shocking.
“I’d rather work in Wells than anywhere else, but it’s very seasonal. You find autumn and winter is very dead.”
Some of the locals we speak to are torn over second home ownership – noting it’s vital to keep the town alive but also causing endless problems for locals.
Phil Weston, 56, who’s run the Wet Dog Surf Shop for nearly five years in Wells, says it’s “a double-edged sword”.
“Without the influx of visitors and holiday and second homeowners the town wouldn’t exist,” he said.
“We need those people who have a lot of money, they spend on food, drink and clothing.”
He says one such visitor purchased a £350 paddleboard and others come in with cash to spare.
Similarly, Sami Withers, 29, who’s worked in Picnic Hut, which boasts the best crab sandwiches in the area, for nearly four years seems to agree.
“From Easter onwards business is unstoppable,” she said. “You have to see both sides of the coin and be open-minded, there’s no point being in business here if you disagree with the second homes.
“The locals have a lot to say and I don’t blame them, it’s a shame homes spend so much of the year empty.
“But it’s a popular place and if you can afford to be here half of the year then you’re going to be. If I could afford it, I would do the same.”
‘Astronomically high rent’
Further up the street inside Mrs B’s Tearoom, resident of nearly 50 years Joan Hart is busy cooking a fry-up for visitors and says second homes “are everywhere” in the area.
She says “rents are astronomically high” and three of her children had to receive help through Homes For Wells, a charitable community benefit society.
“One of my sons is ex-Forces and was told by the council he was a top priority for social housing but they weren’t interested,” the 61-year-old tells us.
“He had to move in with me and sleep on the sofa for nearly a year. If Homes For Wells wasn’t here the town would die a death. Locals that work here need to stay here.
“There are loads of empty properties and all the council wants to do is sell them off, which would be alright if they rebuilt social housing, but they are not.”
‘Wells will become ghost town’
Staff shortages are a major concern in the area and much of the available work is minimum wage on seasonal or part-time hours, which presents further problems.
Mum-of-two Kayleigh Rumble, 34, who co-owns Nelson’s Cafe, says they “struggle” to employ because people move out of the area and take jobs there instead.
“They end up not coming back and we don’t have anyone to fill the jobs, which means a lot of businesses can’t open as much,” she tells us.
Another issue is the only nursery in the area has recently closed down, meaning Kayleigh and her employees aren’t able to work as often due to needing to look after their kids.
“It’s not just kids being at the nursery in the day, it’s the after school and holiday clubs that are essential for people who work,” she said.
“I don’t have an option but to take extra days off at our busiest time. Many can’t afford to drive to Fakenham and back to try to get children into childcare there.”
Kayleigh, who volunteers at Homes For Wells, bought her house in 2013 for £165,000 and now it’s worth more than double that.
She told us: “We wouldn’t be able to afford that now, we wouldn’t be able to rent privately either. So many of my friends have moved out of town and struggled.
“Before long Wells will become a ghost town. People won’t be here to work in shops, shops won’t open and then people won’t come here on holiday and it will be too late because everybody’s gone.”
Second home buyer’s ‘guilty conscience’
Minutes away from Wells’ main shopping strip is the old high street where the majority of former businesses – many of which date back to the 1800s – are now summer lets.
Lockboxes for keys are a common sight in this area and many have flyers in the windows, ‘Stay Here’ signs and business cards to catch the eye of passersby. Most of the properties can be found on Airbnb and other rental sites.
At a nearby estate agent, one eight-bedroom home is available to rent at peak times for £7,869 per week and a four-bed for £5,460 – highlighting the clientele the area is appealing to.
The high level of empty homes has been noticed by the locals, who point out key indicators during our interviews.
“When you walk your dog around at night time in January and February all of the lights are off in the street,” Kayleigh added.
Resident Lynne Burdon says it was “really eerie” during lockdowns because she could “hardly see another light on apart from a few above a few shops”.
The retired lawyer admits she was part of the problem after buying a second home herself in 2018 with the intention of retiring in 2021 and relocating from London.
At the time, Lynne was unaware of the issue of second properties and has since gone on to chair Homes For Wells, which buys houses to rent to locals.
“I had a guilty conscience,” she told us. “I saw a lovely house, bought it and it was only after living here that I began to understand the problem.”
Homes For Wells has 31 properties currently and 40 people on their waiting list, but believe they would “easily fill 100 homes” if they had them.
They are constantly fundraising to buy properties, which they rent out on a “priority basis” to key workers and those in dire need – including those who are homeless.
Lynne said: “There are people in Wells that will never get on the housing ladder and at one point it was possible for ordinary working people.
“So they go up 10 miles inland to say Fakenham where they can afford to live and get jobs there – which is another family lost for us.
“At the moment we have a junior school, a high school, a doctors and a post office, but there are big concerns we will lose them and we are already losing essential amenities.
“If people can’t afford to live here, Wells will become a holiday resort.”
Lives at risk
Councillor Arguile fears that as more locals are pushed out voluntary services like the fire service and lifeboat will buckle under the pressure.
“People can’t live 10 miles away if they are to be of any use in a fire and the lifeboats will not be able to function,” he said.
He’s the chairman of the Neighbourhood Plan Working Party, which is working to tackle housing affordability and second home ownership.
One of the proposals is “all houses newly-built must be principally for residents and can’t be second homes”.
He added: “It would be small but an important step forward in restricting the growth of second and holiday homes.”
A North Norfolk District Council spokesperson told The Sun they were “very aware” of the need for more affordable housing and conceded houses are “beyond the means of many local households”.
They added: “We work with Parish and Town Councils, landowners, developers and Housing Associations to try to get as many affordable homes built as possible.
“As well as ‘on the ground’ enabling work, the Council also provides top-up grants to help ensure affordable homes can be built.”
They said 1,002 new affordable homes had been delivered over the past 11 years in the district but added: “We know this is not enough and we continue to look for more sites for affordable homes.”
Councillor Wendy Fredericks, the Liberal Democrat Portfolio Holder for Housing, told us: “We have agreed that doubling council tax for second homes will help grant-fund the building of affordable homes for local people.”
However to carry it out, she said there was a need for Government legislation and added: “We need proper taxation for second homes and holiday lets to benefit those residents who are being priced out of their communities.”
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/21418724/second-homes-holiday-ghost-town-wells-norfolk/ Second home owners have turned our seaside town into ‘Chelsea on Sea’ & forced out locals – I’ve had to move in with nan