The housing leader at Plaid Cymru Gwynedd, Councillor Craig ab Iago, is concerned that Gwynedd houses are disappearing apace from local people’s ownership.
On his own doorstep in Llanllyfni, one issue that is causing extreme concern to the Councillor with responsibility for housing at Gwynedd Council, is the fact that commercial estate agency companies are exploiting the market, and marketing high quality properties as second owned houses.
“We know that there is a shortage of affordable housing across Wales and waiting lists for housing associations continue to grow.”
According to the Councillor, 60% of Gwynedd's residents cannot afford to buy a house in the county, and a home at the current market in Gwynedd is out of local people’s reach.
In addition, 40% of the houses sold on the open market, approximately 900 of the 2250 houses sold by commercial companies on the open market in Gwynedd annually, go to people from outside the county, as a second house.
"Having a home and a roof over your head is a core principle that, in my view, is not being met by rigid, outdated Labour Government policies in Cardiff and the Tory policies in Westminster. The housing development and planning systems in Wales needs to be overhauled,” said the Gwynedd Councillor who has responsibility for the housing sector, housing people, managing the county's housing register, homelessness, construction, carbon footprint and much more.
"Marketing a house on the open market as a “second home, but is equally adept as a holiday let… an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern city life as a second home,”* does nothing to help the situation.”
In Llanllyfni Ward, located in Dyffryn Nantlle, where Councillor Craig ab Iago and his family live, a company from England is marketing a converted chapel, 'Chapel Moriah', as an opportunity to buy a second house or a holiday home.
“For the grand sum of £400,000, you can buy this wonderful house in my ward. The company from west Yorkshire has obviously no real knowledge of north west Wales and they have no idea how detrimental it is to this community, promoting a house in this way.
“The reality is, there is no large local market for a house of this type, the price is out of reach for most local people. The average salary for a Gwynedd resident is £16,000 a year. Promoting this former chapel, in this insensitive manner does nothing except rub salt on the wound.
“It shows a lack of understanding and awareness of the locality, a lack of respect for the community and a lack of knowledge about the community tensions that can arise at grassroot level.”
The Councillor has contacted the company, EweMove, to inform them of his grave concerns and to try and educate them about the real problems and tensions that is arising within the county's communities.
Craig ab Iago strongly believes that a mature public discussion is needed around planning, the economy and the commercial housing sector.
“House prices in my area is shocking. And the tide continues to move apace leaving local people born and bred here, who work here, who want to continue to live in Gwynedd and raise children here, unable to afford to buy a home from within their communities.
“During the Covid19 restriction period, the 5 or 6 houses sold here on my own doorstep, in Dyffryn Nantlle, have all been sold to residents from outside Gwynedd. Unfortunately, Gwynedd is not unique in this respect.
"I have looked in some detail at the Town and Countryside Act 1990 where St Ives, in Cornwall, has used a Community Development Plan to manage the planning process in their locality to ensure that housing remains in local people’s ownership.
“Over the next few months, as a political team, we will be discussing with Senedd Members, MPs, Ministers and Welsh Government officials to see how we can influence housing development and planning here in Gwynedd and in the rest of Wales.”
According to Gwynedd Council figures, 16% of the county's housing stock is social housing and 12% of the housing stock are second houses. Gwynedd has the highest second house figures in Wales with over 6000 properties.
Plaid Cymru Gwynedd successfully lobbied Welsh Labour Housing Minister, Julie James, to adapt the Welsh Government's small business support policy, during the Covid19 restrictions, ensuring that owners of a second property in Gwynedd would not receive a grant support aid of £10,000 if they were not registered as a genuine small business.
“There was a risk that up to £18million of public funds could be paid to second property owners who had converted from the Domestic Business rate to a Business rate to avoid paying any tax at all,” explains Councillor Craig ab Iago.
“This was a social injustice in my view, in Gwynedd cabinet’s view and in four other Welsh councils’ view. It would have been unethical to use public funds to support people who could afford to own a second property.”
After a concentrated campaign, Plaid Cymru Gwynedd successfully lobbied for a change to Welsh Labour Government’s business support policy.