Locals are being priced out of their home turf
Like the late, great Jan Morris, I have struggled to define the ever-alluring, nostalgic and mystical term, ‘Celticness’. At the very least, perhaps, we can say that being a Celt is identifiable by the language we speak. For me, a romantic west Walian, it is Cymraeg — Welsh — that provides a cultural touchpoint which means no matter where I am, there is a linguistic shield against the never-ending threat of Anglicisation.
Morris was right over fifteen years ago in pointing to several factors that jeopardised the future of Welsh-speaking communities globally and, believe it or not, within the territory we call modern ‘Wales’. But of all the threats to Cymraeg, none are so severe as that of second homes: a ‘plague’, Morris said, and one that continues to haunt Celtic places. (Such properties make up close to 40% of housing in some communities across Wales).
Take the case of Cwm-yr-Eglwys, a village in Pembrokeshire: only two out of the 50 properties have permanent residents while a third is on the market for £1m. Further north, Gwynedd is a hotspot for second homes. While the average wage is around £24,000 annually, locals were recently outbid for the village chapel in Pistyll, which sold for £275,000. The asking price? £120,000.
With more than 10% of housing stock in the county designated as second homes, it is no surprise that the mantra for the second home buyers — Nid yw Cymru ar Werth (Wales is not for sale) — is growing in resonance. It comes on the heels of another campaign, Hawl i Fyw Adra (The Right to Live at Home), that has been drawing attention to places like Anglesey, where house prices have shot up 16% this year.
But this sentiment is not new. During the Thatcher years, a militant group Meibion Glyndŵr even went so far as to fire-bomb hundreds of English-owned properties across Wales.
Fortunately, such violence no longer occurs, but second homes have since become a mainstream political issue. Just this weekend dozens of councils wrote to the First Minister Mark Drakeford calling for urgent action on taxation and planning policy.
The First Minister insists there is no “single bullet” for solving the crisis, but he could start by working on some of the recommendations proposed by his own Government: calling for controls on the number of holiday homes or implementing a 100% council tax premium on such properties, for example.
We cannot let young Welsh-speakers become tourists in their own area. The new proposals seem like a sensible step towards helping those who want to raise a family, find work and grow old in their square mile.
But for now, all I can suggest, again borrowing a phrase from Jan Morris, is simple: enjoy your stay – then go away – come again another day!
Theo Davies-Lewis is the National Wales’s chief political commentator. He is a native Welsh speaker from Llanelli, west Wales.