Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at CPRE, the countryside charity, argues YES
For those with enough money, it is easy to see why a second home is so appealing. You can have the best of both worlds; a home that offers an easy commute plus a place in the countryside, or perhaps by the sea, where you can unwind and enjoy the holidays. Perhaps you fancy retiring there one day. It’s the kind of dream to which many people aspire.
There are, however, a couple of problems with this utopia. The first is that the more second homes there are for some, the fewer first homes and rental properties there are for others. You might reasonably – and correctly – say the government should provide social housing for the have-nots. But that is where we run into the second problem: more housing has to go somewhere. And that – far too frequently – means goodbye countryside.
Not only do most second homes force up prices to unsustainable levels in our most beautiful and iconic rural areas, driving out local people on lower wages and hollowing out the soul of historic communities; they also, inadvertently, drive the destruction of the green and pleasant land that we need to sustain us all.
The problem is far more than aesthetic. Along with an acute housing shortage, we face the triple whammy of food, energy and climate crises. A healthy, thriving countryside is the only means by which we can restore nature to suck up carbon, farm sustainably to feed the nation and find appropriate land to help power a renewable energy revolution.
There are almost exactly 500,000 households on social housing waiting lists in England – and almost exactly the same number of second homes likely sitting vacant most of the year. The homelessness problem is partly a second homes problem. It’s time for us to address the national interest and rural housing need, not demand.
Sam Rowlands, member of the Welsh Parliament for North Wales, argues NO
As a Welsh Conservative Member of the Welsh Parliament, who sits on the Local Government and Housing Committee, we have recently undertaken an inquiry into second homes in Wales.
Second homes do continue to be a contentious issue in some communities across Wales, broadly where you’d expect – visitor destination spots.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are a total of 1,397,387 chargeable dwellings in Wales, these being domestic dwellings in an area for which council tax is payable. Out of these 1,397,387 dwellings, just 19,818 were classed as second homes.
Of the 19,818 second homes in Wales, 42 per cent were on the Isle of Anglesey and in Gwynedd. In addition to this, the average property price of a second home is considerably higher than what a first-time buyer could buy, or even the average person, negating the argument that this is stopping local people entering the housing market.
It’s clear there is an issue in some communities. Nevertheless, it’s extremely disappointing to see second homes leading the housing debate, when there simply aren’t enough houses being built in Wales, and there currently being more empty homes than second homes in Wales.
A huge concern that I have with the second homes discussion at times is the tone of the debate and the damaging effect it could have on tourism. In my region of North Wales, this is a vitally important sector that supports tens of thousands of jobs and contributes around £3.5 billion a year to the economy.
Now is the time for all efforts to be put into building more homes and creating the right environment to encourage private developers and business, not continuing to press on an issue which only impacts a small proportion of areas.