Residents of St Ives are fighting tooth and nail to prevent wealthy Londoners from buying second homes in the idyllic Cornish seaside town. Its popularity has long meant that visiting in summer can be a hellish experience, with congested streets and throngs of tourists, but the influx of wealthy landlords could pose an even greater threat.
The pretty town is adored for its fishermen’s houses around a picturesque little harbor where brightly painted boats rest on the sand at low tide. Sandy beaches, museums and galleries, famous art schools and a diverse and well-established food scene make it the tourist magnet it is today.
However, the tourism boon has become an addiction, with annual expenditure of £85m. Around 540,000 day-trippers and over 220,000 overnight tourists visit St Ives each year, with the tourism industry supporting around 2,800 jobs in the area, or almost one in four people who live there.
READ MORE: Beautiful seaside town where angry locals rage over Londoners turning homes into ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’
This, in turn, created its own set of problems. In the last couple of years everything has come to a head and the locals, whose price is out of their own town so that what little housing there is left can make way for vacation rentals and second homes, in have enough.
“Sometimes the townspeople feel like they’re just agents in a theme park,” said Stefan Harkon, St Ives RNLI lifeguard for many years and one of the driving forces behind the new skatepark. which was built last year and is already famous for its unique looping Hepworth Vortex. “We work in a neighborhood but we can’t live there.”
“We have a town where the wealthy come on holiday, while in parts of St Ives more than a third of children are living below the subsistence level,” said Camilla Dixon, co-founder of campaign group First Not Second. Homes, mentioned. “It has a detrimental effect. We depleted our public housing stock when it was sold in the 1980s. Because land values rose, developers grabbed land and banked land to earn more money. That means real social housing development is overpriced.”
As there is little new land available and nowhere to buy, this has also led to rental prices rising – or worse – in families being evicted by landlords who want to take advantage of holidaymakers instead.
The problem of second homes in St Ives is so acute that in 2016 residents voted to ban new build from being second homes, with 83% in favor. According to Rightmove, average house prices in the city are now £440,000, more than 17 times the median annual income of someone in Cornwall. Homes for sale in the town, particularly those on the harbor side, regularly appear for sale with prices up to £1million.
St Ives also faces a shortage of rentals; in 2021, while there were over 1,000 properties in the city available for short-term vacation rentals, there was only one long-term home available for rent. How can most of those living in some of the poorer areas like Penbeagle afford to stay a week at Sunset House, the former council house demolished to make way for a £6million house overlooking the Porthmeor beach and now let to holidaymakers for £7,000 a week?
Andrew George, the former Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, now Cornwall Councilor for Ludgvan, Madron, Gulval and Heamoor agreed. “The worsening inequality and severe housing injustice is illustrated by observing how communities like St Ives have changed dramatically over the past few decades. In the early 90s we used to cover all the houses in “Downalong” as much as we did the rest of the city. There were second homes and second homes then, but they were in the minority. It’s not worth doing the same nowadays The town has changed so much that many parts of St Ives are now a dormitory with very few local families residing there.”
Town Clerk Louise Dwelly said: “The council tax level is decreasing as there are more second homes which do not pay tax as they are registered as businesses. This means that the operation of the city is more expensive for the people who live here as it is spread over fewer people.We are also advocating for the law to be changed for a city tax.
Current Tory MP Derek Thomas recently lobbied his colleagues in Whitehall for the law to be changed to solve Cornwall’s housing crisis by making long-term rentals more attractive to landlords than holiday rentals. Speaking during a debate on affordable housing in Devon and Cornwall, held in Parliament, he said: “The situation is urgent at the moment. I have so many constituents who are in dire straits and it takes a quick and effective response that provides a secure home for life.
“We are losing these valuable homes, which people are taking advantage of because of legislation that applies to private owners but doesn’t necessarily apply to vacation rentals. I don’t think that’s a level playing field.”
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