UK & World

The Welsh community that is going to be a testbed for radical ideas to tackle the problem of second homes

Protected by the great peaks of Snowdonia on one side and the Irish sea on the other, the area known as Dwyfor has largely kept its language and communities despite its huge tourist appeal.

One of the five historic districts of Gwynedd, it includes the beautiful Llŷn peninsula as well as the towns of Criccieth and Porthmadog and was named for the Afon Dwyfor which runs from the foothills of Snowdonia to the sea past Llanystumdwy, the childhood home of David Lloyd George.

A study found that more than 70% still speak Welsh here and that the percentage of young people speaking the language is among the highest in Wales – yet like so many other places, its character and language is feared to be under threat as the popularity of second homes drives up property prices. In 1971, more than 80% spoke Welsh.

Almost certainly for these reasons Dwyfor has been chosen by the Welsh Government to pilot radical new policies to ensure that local people are not priced out of buying their own homes and don’t find themselves being forced out of their communities.

Across other parts of the UK and the world policies used to tackle second homes have included laws, like Switzerland’s Lex Weber, which set a cap on the percentage of homes that can be secondary residences. Jersey divides homes into ones that can be sold on the open market and ones that have to be kept on the local market. St Ives, Fowey Megavissey ban all new homes being sold as secondary residences. Salcombe is trying to follow suit using a different mechanism. In places like Brittany, people call for taxes on buyers.

The Welsh Government is as yet tight-lipped about what policies it hopes to test out in Dwyfor and how long the pilot project will last before other areas of Wales are brought in. It says the minister, Julie James, is “keen to look at shared equity schemes, rental solutions and what we do with empty homes” to help young people onto the property ladder locally.

One consultation that is being launched is on the use of a “class order” in planning to allow councils to demand separate planning applications for second homes or short-term holiday lets. The second phase of the pilot “could involve making changes to planning, taxation and tourism systems,” according to the Welsh Government.

Yet data already shows how large the problem is that the policy will need to tackle. The area around beautiful Abersoch already has an average property price of £437,500, according to ONS data for small areas. Surrounding areas on the south coast of Pen Llŷn also have average prices above the Wales average recorded by the ONS of £196,000 according to its latest data.

House prices at these levels are quickly out of the reach for people in an area like Gwynedd where average household incomes are lower than in many other parts of the UK. In the area around Abersoch at the tip of Pen Llŷn, average household income was £34,900 in 2018, according the ONS.

Ward-level taken from the Valuation Office Agency by Dafydd Elfryn shows how closely high house prices are correlated to high levels of second home ownership. In the ward of Abersoch, there were 131 holiday homes in the Abersoch ward with 59 in Llanystumdwy and 99 in Criccieth. His map is available here.

WalesOnline spoke to a few residents about their opinion on the pilot scheme, and looked at how it compares to schemes outside of Wales that are facing similar housing crisis.

‘They are showing that they are one of us’

According to Gwynedd County councillor Gruffydd Williams, the emergency has been at hand “for a long time”.

The councillor comes from Nefyn – a town which has seen a dramatic increase in house prices during the pandemic as city dwellers escaped from the city and headed to rural Wales for a more peaceful life.

“It hasn’t been easy for the Welsh Government,” Mr Williams told WalesOnline.

Campaigners against second homes emergency, Hawl i Fyw Adra (‘Right to live at home’) marching from Nefyn to Cyngor Gwynedd offices in Caernarfon. / Ymgyrchwyr yn erbyn argyfwng ail dai, Hawl i Fyw Adra, yn cerdded o Nefyn i swyddfa Cyngor Gwynedd yng Nghaernarfon.

“They have faced their fair share of obstructions. This has been a long time coming with a lot of people dedicating their time to make change, such as Rhys Tudur and Simon Brooks.

“It appears that the government is steering into the right direction, but in my opinion, this is not a time to rejoice – there’s a lot to do.

“Even though I do acknowledge that a lot needs to happen in order to develop the process, we need to push forward for a more effective planning law in order to control the housing market here. That will come through the consultation.

“The Welsh Government answers to the people of Wales and following this announcement, it seems that they are showing that they are one of us.”

‘It’s a very good thing for Dwyfor’

Mared Llywelyn agrees. Only a few short miles from the town of Nefyn, Mared lives in Morfa Nefyn – only a stone throw away from the sea.

Previously, Mared told WalesOnline that the second home emergency “keeps some people awake”. Now, Mared believes that the government’s announcement is something to be proud of.

The Gwynedd district of Dwyfor, which includes Pen Llyn (Llyn Peninsula) has been chosen for the pilot that will be launched in January with support from Gwynedd Council.

“We welcome the announcement – it’s a very good thing for Dwyfor.

“Even though this issue affects many different communities, Dwyfor is the stronghold for the Welsh language and the second homes crisis was a threat to that. We need to protect that.

“At the moment, there aren’t any in-depth details on how they are going to accomplish this, but this is a good opportunity to experiment and see what works for our communities and a way to ensure a healthy future for our language.”

‘Measures should be implemented across the country, not just as a pilot in one area’

One movement that has been heavily involved in the campaign for decades is Cymdeithas yr Iaith.

The movement has welcomed the pilot scheme, but believe that they should extend it further.

Jeff Smith, the chair of the movement’s sustainable communities said: “Regulating holiday accommodation, allowing local authorities to make it essential for developers to sign a planning application to change the use of a house into a second or holiday home, and providing money so that empty houses are handed back into the locals’ hands will have a positive effect on people’s abilities to live in the place they call home.

'Nid yw Cymru ar Werth' ('Wales is not for sale') sign in Gwynedd.
‘Nid yw Cymru ar Werth’ (‘Wales is not for sale’) sign in Gwynedd.

“But these measures should be implemented across the country, not just as a pilot in one area.

“We were also pleased to see the commitments in the agreement between the Government and Plaid Cymru to cap the number of second and holiday homes in a community, manage rent, increase rates on second homes and introduce a tax on tourism.

“We thank all those who have taken part in the campaign to protect our communities and try to secure homes for local people. Our campaigning has made a significant impact.

“More than a thousand came to rally Wales for Sale is not on the steps of Senedd recently to call for radical Government action.

“We therefore call on the government to commit to creating a Property Act that will address the housing market as a whole during this term, so that housing is seen as homes rather than commercial resources.”

‘It’s community initiatives that have saved our communities’

Gwenno Rice, who lives in Pwllheli but is originally from Nefyn, where she now works as part of the community enterprise Yr Heliwr.

According to Gwenno, the government should use a part of the pilot scheme to invest in organisations that have supported communities in Dwyfor through out the emergency.

“The current situation is difficult,” she said.

“What’s interesting about Nefyn is that it was a town that was almost protected by its ‘messiness’ as it were -as it was right in the middle of Llyn and not considered the most desirable area by many tourists and visitors that came here.

The town of Nefyn in Dwyfor, Gwynedd.

“Now, all of that has changed in the last eighteen months – more houses are being bought as second homes, even rent has become competitive. And as a result, housing prices have slipped out of people’s reach, including myself.

“It makes you feel hopeless and you’ve almost lost all faith in the authorities. Who knows if this scheme will work – there is so many changes that need to be done.

“I’m thankful that Nefyn has maintained its community spirit and that’s due to all the work the community initiative, Yr Heliwr, has done to the area. Tafarn yr Heliwr is a pub and any profit we make with tourists visiting the pub goes straight back to the community.

“This is how you regulate tourism properly in holiday hotspots and I really hope that the government takes this into account and invest in the initiative that has essentially saved our communities.”

‘I’m disappointed they haven’t considered increasing land taxes’

Nefyn Town Counil has asked for pilot schemes since November of last year.

Despite the delay, campaigner and town council chair Rhys Tudur is pleased that the scheme is being introduced.

“Obviously, there’s a personal element to this scheme – Dwyfor is my home and it was where I was born,” he said.

“But on top of that, statistics show that changes were needed here and so Dwyfor was the best places to make those changes.

“I’m glad that there’s movement albeit a bit slow.

Rhys Tudur from Hawl i fyw Adra campaign.

“It would be difficult to introduce something nationally without testing it a smaller scale somewhere first. One thing I hope they do focus on is the planning law.

“I’m disappointed to some extent that they haven’t increased land taxes – that needs to be changed.”

Mr Tudur is also calling on the government to consider measures used similarly in places such as Switzerland.

“Having rules similar to what they use in Switzerland would be very beneficial,” he added.

“What I would like to see is something similar to the Lex Koller, which introduces restrictions on people that don’t live locally.”

WalesOnline has looked at situations and schemes regarding second homes outside of Wales.

What other parts of the world have done to stop second homes

Salcombe, Devon

Salcombe in Devon.

With the average house prices in Salcombe at £950,325 and more than 57% of properties now second homes, the town is trying something new in order to keep homes in the hands of the locals.

Under new rules, developers are legally bound to register a Section 106 agreement on the title deeds of any new-build property. Section 106 is a legal agreement between Local Authorities and developers when it is considered that a development will have significant impacts on the local area that cannot be moderated by means of conditions attached to a planning decision.

This agreement will replace simpler “planning conditions” that had a tendency to be “mislaid” by homeowners when it came to selling the property.

St Ives, Cornwall

St. Ives in Cornwall.

In 2016, the popular seaside town became the first place in England to ban new second homes.

Under new rules, the council could ban developers from building new properties for the second home market in the town, which had around a quarter of residential properties as second homes or holiday lets.

In September of this year, it was decided to introduce the clampdown on second homes through out England and designed to provide respite to communities in areas such as Cornwall, the Lake District and the Costwolds which have a number of holiday homes and holiday lets.

Jersey and Guernsey

Fermain Bay, Guernsey.

Although islands such as Jersey and Guernsey have garnered the reputation of being ‘tax havens’, the islands off the coast of Normandy have their own fiscal autonomy like Wales. Such power has enabled their local governments to implement taxes on ‘non-local’ occupants.

In Guernsey, for example, residential properties are split into two categories: local market and open market. The local market means that properties in general can be occupied by people who were born on the island, or alternatively, were not born on the island but have lived there for a number of years.

The open market means that properties can be occupied by local or non-local residents and tend to be more expensive than local market properties.

Brittany

Siblu Le Conguel holiday village Brittany, north of France.

Brittany – a region in the north of France is also facing a similar second homes crisis.

Like in Wales, protestors are calling for purchasing restrictions for second homeowners and a call for restrictions around short-term rentals, such as accommodation offered through Airbnb.

Among the protest organisers is UDB (Union Démocratique Bretonne), who in July of this year called for communes in the region to introduce rules that would stop people from buying homes in Brittany unless they had lived there for one year.

Leader of UDB, Nil Caouissin, had previously said that second homes should be considered as “non-used housing stock” and that reducing their number would rebalance the housing market.

The group also demands a tax rise on second homes and turning second homes into main residence.

Switzerland

Lake Riffelsee in the Swiss Alps near in Zermatt, Switzerland.

In Switzerland, which is a holiday destination for many European countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Austria, people from abroad can only buy property under certain conditions.

The country has introduced two laws – Lex Koller and Lex Weber.

Lex Koller: The law regulates what licenses are required for people from abroad who want to buy property in Switzerland, including people from the European Union or the European Free Trade Association. This act prioritises people who live in Switzerland or are Swiss nationals when buying a house.

Lex Weber: The law developed through a campaign aimed at tackling the second-housing crisis in places such as the Alps. In a referendum in 2012, Swiss people voted unanimously for the proposal and it came into effect in 2013. The law proposes to prevent excesses of second homes, especially in tourist regions (like the Alps) where people occupy houses for only a short time every year. The law also protects natural areas where developers want to build second homes, and prevents large-scale construction that leads to rising house prices.

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