Local homes versus holiday lets

Laura White
Laura White
New housing near Exeter © Sharon Goble

By Penny Mills – Devon CPRE, Director

In this month’s column, Devon CPRE Director Penny Mills asks how we address the lack of affordable rental properties for local people

At the risk of stating the obvious, income from tourism is vital to Devon’s economy, never more so than now as local businesses seek to recover from the impact of COVID-19. As visitors flocked back to our beautiful part of the country to enjoy the coast and countryside, a massive downside to this staycation boom has emerged – a growing shortage of properties for Devon’s residents to live in year-round.

A recent CPRE report examined the impact of second homes and short-term tourism lets on popular holiday areas, including Devon. The figures show that since 2016, the number of short-term listings in Devon has increased by an unprecedented 800%. At the same time, the number of rental homes available between 2016 and 2019 fell by 3%. We don’t yet have the statistics for the two ‘COVID-19 years’ so we don’t know for sure that owners are removing homes from the rental market to benefit from the online holiday-let boom, but we strongly believe that is the case.

In recent years booking sites like Airbnb and Vrbo have created lucrative opportunities for investors and second-home owners to make more money from their properties by turning them into short-term holiday lets. In scenic spots the length and breadth of Devon, including on Dartmoor, you’ll find empty home after empty home with a key safe by the front door, waiting for the influx of holidaymakers in the spring.

Surely there has to be a limit to this seemingly endless supply of holiday accommodation? Especially when it impacts the lives of local people and the viability of their communities; buying their own home has long been beyond the
reach of many young people and key workers, now they’re struggling to even find a home to rent.

Devon CPRE does not have a magic wand to put right this undeniably grim state of affairs, but the solution surely lies in better planning. We know only too well that there’s a massive gap between the number of affordable homes developers initially promise when they put forward proposals for new housing settlements, and the number they actually deliver. Surely the needs of those unable to afford their first home, who are now struggling to find even a home to rent, must be prioritised over profit for developers, investors and second-home owners?

We believe a full range of housing types needs to be built, alongside the creation of employment opportunities and the provision of adequate school places and medical services. Perhaps Devon and Cornwall councils are right and any change-of-use  to short-term holiday lets should be included in the planning system to make sure it’s kept at a sustainable level. Ultimately, to devise planning policies that focus on sustainable, long-term solutions we need accurate data on which to base our decision-making.

If you would like to support our work to protect the countryside for future generations and improve opportunities for those in rural communities, find out more at www.devoncpre.org.uk

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