In 1979, the first referendum on devolution for Wales was lost, with those wanting a Welsh Assembly securing only 20% of the vote. Within a year 50 arson attacks on second homes and individually owned caravans had occurred and by the end of the decade more than 200 properties, including some owned by Welsh Conservative MPs had been damaged or destroyed. Four different nationalist groups claimed responsibility. Arson attacks were a “response to the threat of English-speaking incomers to the viability of the Welsh language in rural areas and, more significantly in the long-term, to the rising crisis in affordable housing”. In 2019-20, there were 17,505 people in Wales learning Welsh, 86% of them of working age.
In January this year, Welsh papers were reporting that there was a risk, ‘open talk’ of another holiday cottages arson campaign. In May last year, the Economist was reporting that second homes were coming under increasing attack: “In Nefyn, around a fifth of properties are second homes. In Abersoch, 12 miles away, 46% are. That village is packed with 4x4s and sports cars driven by Cheshire’s business elite.” In June this year, The Telegraph reported that angry Welsh villagers are talking about “torching houses” of second homeowners.
In early June, the Daily Mail reported the crisis in locally affordable housing in many parts of Britain exacerbated by the purchase of second homes with demand from wealthy outsiders pricing local people out of the market and Welsh political leaders pointing to “people buying from afar purely as an investment to earn money”, facilitated by the growth of Airbnb.
In March last year, the Welsh government announced stringent new rules aimed at combating the number of second homes in rural Welsh communities. Currently, 23,000 properties in Wales pay a council tax premium of 100%. From April 2023 local authorities will be able to set council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty properties at up to 300%. Estate agents are reporting that already second homeowners are selling up. But on the Welsh Riviera, second homes are reported to be sold to “wealthy individuals who will use their second houses less often, leading to the closure of independent shops, bars and restaurants.”
In addition to the council tax rise, the Welsh government has tightened the regulation of the holiday rental market. “Welsh holiday firms will ‘die like dolphins’ after 182 day letting policy confirmed”. From April 1, 2023, the Welsh Government will insist that self-catering properties are let for at least 182 days each year in a move critics say will “decimate” the Welsh tourism industry. The Wales Tourism Alliance, which represents 6,000 tourism operators in Wales, believes 84% of the country’s holiday lets could now be forced to close.
The English Housing Survey in January this year estimated that there were 495,000 second homes in the UK concentrated in holiday areas. It is a growing problem by no means unique to Wales or the UK.