Herald Column

Time to Address the Second Home Scourge Once and For All

Sometimes it takes a national crisis for a burning injustice which has been simmering for many years to burst out to the surface. The proliferation of second homes in Wales has always been a hugely controversial topic. In socio-economic terms they play a big part in undermining once vibrant communities. In Wales there is the added damage to an ancient language and culture as locals are priced out of an open housing market. We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world in our beautiful country, but that also comes with a terrible price. A vicious cycle follows where economic opportunity is reduced, public services become unsustainable, geographical wealth inequalities rise. The young leave for the cities taking with them economic vibrancy, creativity and enterprise.

That great poet RS Thomas in the 60s and 70s would berate the feebleness of the Welsh in refusing to oppose this deliberate destruction of the spirit of our nation. At that time we lacked the governmental apparatus to resist. Since devolution in 99, we can only blame ourselves. Responsibility lies solely at the hands of our eternal Labour Government in Cardiff who have done absolutely nothing to intervene meaningfully. In English national parks, faced with the same problem, second home sales have been curbed. In Wales we are left wide open by a ruling party in Cardiff whose very essence, as committed British nationalists, is to show little regard for the notion of Wales as a nation. The destruction of an ancient language and culture is no real concern to them. So debased is Welsh political culture these days that as a government they can announce meaningless distant targets on issues ranging from child poverty to Welsh speakers and everyone seems to think it’s job done.

Its hardly surprising therefore that out of the pandemic, this old wound would resurface. The whole purpose of the lockdown strategies being employed by the Welsh Government is to suppress the outbreak of a deadly virus. However, the travelling influx places added huge pressure on already stretched health and care services. I choose my words carefully, but these selfish acts should be condemned utterly and to be honest I have been amazed at the restraint of local communities. Especially when considering that one of the social consequences of second home proliferation is an ageing population – meaning that locals are more likely to be in the high-risk groups.

Despite the pleas of local health professionals and service leaders, without the support of our national government our communities are completely impotent to protect themselves. It’s been left to Drs to take to the public realm to receive some vague assurances from the Labour Government of stricter action.

To rub salt in the wounds, many second home owners, who had registered their properties as businesses to get round Council Tax, have been claiming Coronavirus grant aid aimed at protecting the economy.

Out of this pandemic we need a new deal for the west of our country. We should no longer accept our status as a playground for others. On top of meaningful curbs on second homes we need to be serious about building a vibrant future for our communities so that our young people, should they decide to do so, can make a future for themselves and their families here and not face the economic disadvantage that comes with that decision. The policy solutions are all there, no longer can we let political indifference by unionist parties based in London and Cardiff fail us.

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