Councillor sparks criticism over Carmarthenshire second homes row

A Carmarthenshire councillor is standing by comments he made in support of second home ownership in the county during a meeting discussing the need to clampdown on them.

Labour councillor Kevin Madge has come under fire from opposition members in Plaid for his views on second homes in which he argued they brought income and investment to Carmarthenshire.

His remarks were made during a full meeting of Carmarthenshire Council that was held online via webcam earlier this month.

However, Cllr Madge’s comments were branded naive, irrelevant and confused, sparking criticism from Plaid that Labour in Carmarthenshire has “abandoned its support for our rural communities” and lost its “moral compass”.

Market forces have left communities in Carmarthenshire “defenceless” against the rise of second homes, the council’s Plaid administration said at the meeting.

Plaid’s Cllr Cefin Campbell’s motion calling for a clampdown on second homes and holiday homes was passed at a meeting of full council.

Although around a quarter of the county’s 74 councillors did not vote after declaring an interest in the subject and left the meeting.

The 19 or so councillors who declared an interest did so because they either owned a holiday home themselves, including council leader Plaid’s Emlyn Dole, had relatives who were landlords, like Carmarthenshire Labour leader Cllr Rob James, knew someone who owned a holiday home, or – in Indepedent Cllr Sue Allen’s case – was an Airbnb “superhost”.

It meant Cllr Madge was the lone voice for Labour during the discussion, which has since prompted criticism from Plaid.

Cllr Campbell’s motion said 1,118 homes in Carmarthenshire were not the sole or main dwelling of the owner – up to 40% in some areas – which was pricing out local people.

At the meeting Cllr Campbell said younger families “forced to leave” their communities would help bolster pupil numbers, the local economy and the Welsh language if they stayed.

He said there was evidence of a rise in second home ownership because people’s dream of owning a holiday pad in places like Provence had become a “bit of a nightmare” after Brexit. Buyers’ preferences had changed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s not really about inadequate planning policies – more about the unequal distribution of wealth, the haves, the have nots,” said Cllr Campbell.

“It’s when market forces leave your communities defenceless.”

At the meeting Plaid welcomed a Welsh Government intention to add a 1% increase in land transaction tax on the purchase of a second home, but said more measures were needed.

The second homes motion passed by Carmarthenshire councillors called on the Welsh Government to:

  • Change planning laws to ensure that planning permission must be sought for the change of use of a primary dwelling into a second home / holiday accommodation
  • Allow local authorities, in consultation with the local community, to set a cap on the number of second homes in each ward, and allow the use of Section 106 (planning) agreements to prevent new properties from being used as second homes in wards with an unacceptable proportion of second homes.
  • Introduce a licensing system for managing the conversion of a residential property into a commercial unit such as a holiday unit/house or Airbnb.
  • Close the loophole that allows second homes to register as businesses in order to opt out of paying domestic rates and council tax premiums, and take advantage of business rate relief.

Cllr Madge did not support the motion and argued when people came to live in Carmarthenshire they brought investment, including starting their own businesses.

He also cited Welsh Government support for first time buyers, but he was accused of being confused about what second homes really were.

Councillors debating second homes during a webcam meeting of Carmarthenshire Council

At the meeting Cllr Madge said: “I welcome the Welsh Government land transaction tax of 1%,  there is need to put some tax on holiday homes no doubt.”

He said councillors only had to see how many fellow members had declared an interest in the issue of second home ownership and abstained from discussing it to see how prolific second homes were in Carmarthenshire.

He then argued what he saw as the financial benefits of second homes to the county.

“You look at all the people who come into Carmarthenshire, tourism funding has gone up by £300m”, he said.

He added: “Now when people come to live in Carmarthenshire, (to) their second homes, they do bring in investment.

“They create jobs, and they start their own businesses and I’ve had experience, when I was leader of council, where people have come into Carmarthenshire and then they do create jobs and put investment into Carmarthenshire, so that’s important.

“I can see some properties, yes the cost of some properties go up because of it (second home ownership), but it is outweighed by the money that does come in (to Carmarthenshire).

“I understand where they (Plaid councillors) are coming from but Welsh Government has put on 1% (tax).”

“Also there’s support for first time buyers, through the home ownership schemes to provide financial assistance to people throughout Wales to own their own homes.

“Each scheme is aimed at people in different situations, so that we can help people buy their own homes.”

“So this help is out there in rural Carmarthenshire and the rest of Carmarthenshire to make sure our young people can buy properties.

“There is a lot going on with Welsh Government to do this, I’m sorry I cannot support this motion and I will be voting against it.”

Cllr Madge was defending Labour’s actions nationally over second home ownership and  this related to the announcement at the end of last year that there will be a tax hike on second homes in Wales to help raise £13m for social housing.

The move is part of the Welsh Government’s budget for 2021-22.

The changes to land transaction tax – the Welsh version of stamp duty – came in to force last month.

It will see second home-owners paying a 4% levy when they buy properties up to £180,000, rising to 16% for homes worth at least £1.6m.

Cllr Campbell suggested Cllr Madge would rather see the benefit of people moving in than local people staying in the area. “He has raised irrelevant points,” said Cllr Campbell.

In the days following the meeting, which was held on January 13, several councillors voiced their opinion on Cllr Madge’s comments.

Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny, who seconded the motion, said following the meeting: “There was a time when the Labour Party championed the less well-off and stood against social injustice. Sadly, it seems that this is no longer the case.

“I was astonished to hear Labour’s sole speaker on the issue, Cllr Kevin Madge, defending the trend which has had a devastating effect on village life in north Wales and is now starting to have a detrimental impact on our communities in Carmarthenshire.

“The demand for second homes has increased due to the pandemic as rich urban dwellers seek a rural bolt hole, and because of Brexit, as more people turn to Wales instead of France or Spain to look for a holiday home.

“As a result, we’ve seen a rapid rise in house prices in certain parts of the county. It’s disturbing and deeply frustrating to watch wealthy people snapping up properties at inflated prices as holiday homes in our villages, making it even more difficult – if not impossible – for young local people to get on the first rung of the housing ladder.

“During the debate on this important issue, Labour on Carmarthenshire Council tried to muddy the waters by challenging the definition of a ‘second home.’

“The Welsh Government, as the only body which can intervene in this dismal situation, cannot just sit back and watch this attack on our communities. New planning legislation must be introduced to try and control the growing blight of second homes in our coastal villages and rural areas.”

Fellow Plaid councillor Dorian Williams said Cllr Madge’s attitude at the meeting was “nothing short of shocking.”

Adding: “He was heard and seen in a recorded meeting speaking, not on behalf of local people, but on behalf of wealthy absentee urbanites who have their own perception of the rural and coastal idyll of our county.

“Doesn’t he realise that the financial muscle of second home owners, in buying up houses which subsequently lie empty for months on end, severely impacts on local residents’ ability to get onto the housing ladder in their communities?

“As the sole Labour speaker on this key issue at the meeting, he should be ashamed of himself for taking such a stance.

“Cllr Madge’s naive and confused utterances showed little understanding or concern for local people of all ages who are too often outbid in the housing market in the coastal and rural villages where they live by those who are wealthy enough to buy a second home for themselves.”

Plaid’s Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths reacted after the meeting by claiming: “I can only come to the stark conclusion that the Labour Party has abandoned its support for our rural communities.”

He argued the motion for curbing the number of holiday homes in any given community because they led to inflated house prices all primary dwellings that are bought as second homes should have planning permission were reasonable points.

Cllr Griffiths added: ” Sadly, on this occasion not one Labour party member voted for the recommendations.

“Unfortunately a floundering attempt by Cllr  Kevin Madge to justify his decision to vote against the motion made clear to me how little we can depend on Labour to fight for the interests of our communities and young people.”

“When Labour can’t support proposals that makes it easier for young people to buy homes in their own communities but would rather back wealthy second home owners, then it has completely lost its moral compass.”

When approached to clarify his comments Mr Madge said Labour was engaging with those concerned about the increase of second homes in Wales and argued it was important any curbs or measures did not impede the hospitality trade at this difficult time.

In a statement he said: “The Welsh Government budget has included changes to the land transaction tax which will see second homeowners paying 4% levy when they buy properties up to £180,000 rising to 16% for homes worth at least £1.6m.

“The First Minister has also engaged with those concerns about the rise of second homes in Wales and has committed to further action after the Senedd elections.

“It is important that we do not adversely affect our hospitality sector in process which has been hard hit by the pandemic and a key sector in Carmarthenshire.

“We will continue to support residents on this matter and other matters, such as Plaid Cymru’s proposed inflation-busting tax rise, their plans to close rural schools.

“Carmarthenshire deserves better, it’s time for change.”

Looking at the current second home market, Leigh James, manager at the Carmarthen branch of estate agent Clee Tompkinson Francis said the subject was a double edged-sword but said the demand had slowed over the past 12 months.

He said: “If you look at places like Llansteffan and Ferryside the prices there reflect the sought-after nature of the homes and, of course, second home buyers do come in and snap up the properties.

“But we haven’t seen the demand as much over the past year, which could be due to the pandemic, however, there are two sides to the issue.

“For example, if someone has a home to sell for £400,000 and they are adamant they don’t want it to be sold as a second home they would have to wait for someone locally with that budget or take a hit on the price.

“It is the second home owners who generally have the cash ready to go to purchase the higher end properties in prime locations, as opposed to local people and, of course, first time buyers.

“So I can see the frustration there for local people wanting to get on the ladder.

“However it’s a difficult question as to whether any measures would lower prices in the housing market to make it more of a level playing field. I think it would remain to be seen.”

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