Revealed: The Suffolk communities dominated by second homes
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
New figures show second homes account for 40% of all houses in some coastal communities.
Parts of Suffolk’s coast are feared to be losing their identity amid a proliferation of second homes, which now account for more than a third of residences in some communities.
New statistics show that while figures for second homes have fallen nationally, the numbers along the region’s coastline continue to grow, prompting concerns about the effect on property prices, infrastructure and social cohesion.
Nearly one in 20 dwellings throughout Suffolk Coastal were recorded as second homes in 2015 – a higher ratio than 94% of English districts, including holiday destinations such as the Cotswolds, Peak District and Devon.
Waveney, Babergh, Mid Suffolk and Tendring also have above average concentrations, while the number of second homes in Forest Heath has continued to grow in spite of national trends.
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Suffolk County Council’s deputy leader Christopher Hudson said the latest figures were “very disturbing” and warned increased property prices could lead to “bitterness and resentment” in affected communities.
“I believe that houses should be lived in,” he said.
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“And when you have developers concreting over greenfield sites, you have to question how sensible it is for so many of these new homes to be left empty for so much of the time.”
While second homes can be found throughout the region, council figures show they are most prevalent in coastal parishes, with the highest concentration found in Walberswick, where they account for 40% of all dwellings.
Luke Jeans, whose family has lived in the village for three generations, said he had never known it so bad.
“For the first time in my life I’ve questioned whether I really want to live here,” he added.
“I think unfortunately, it’s got to the point of no return.”
Mr Jeans, an Emmy-winning film-maker in his 60s, said he had no problem with the many second home owners who contribute to the community and helped keep the village alive. However over the past five years, he said people had been buying property as an investment, not contributing to the village and yet trying to interfere in its business, upsetting the balance that has existed for many generations.
More than a third of the dwellings in Southwold, Aldringham, Bawdsey, and Dunwich, are second homes. Frinton is also known for its high numbers.
Former Southwold mayor Simon Tobin said fewer properties were now occupied all year round, because so many were holiday lets or second homes.
While he acknowledged the economic contribution visitors provided the economy, Mr Tobin also warned of the impact on younger people.
“It can break the dynamic of a community,” he said.
“For a young person on standard wages it is literally impossible to live in a town like this, which is why it’s critical for councils to look at increasing the supply of affordable housing.”
In Aldeburgh, which has more second homes than any other parish in Suffolk, long-term residents say any further increase would see the town suffer the same effects as Southwold. They have already warned of the impact on services, such as the doctors’ practice.
“I think we’ve reached our capacity as far as second homes are concerned,” said Tony Bone, chairman of four organisations in the town.
“There are areas of the town, particularly in the winter months, which are not really occupied.”
The town has more second homes than many cities including Norwich, Exeter, Lincoln and Liverpool.
Laurie Wiseman, 73, who has lived in Aldeburgh for almost 25 years, said while many second homeowners integrated in the community and often relocated full-time after retiring, the rising number of holiday lets bought as investments was more concerning.
He said there were now more than 400 holiday homes in the old part of the town, with the numbers growing rapidly over recent years.
“A lot of people come here to retire,” he added.
“They contribute to the clubs and associations and keep the town bubbling away, but with all the holiday homes, that’s now happening less and it makes it harder for people to buy property to live in.”
Harry Wass, residential sales director with the Aldeburgh branch of Flick & Son estate agents, said many people bought second homes in the town as an investment but also for their own holidays, with most coming from London, Hertfordshire or Essex.
Towns not immediately thought of as tourist destinations are also reported to have seen an increase in second homes.
A Suffolk County Council report from several years ago identified Leiston as the next “hot spot” for growth, while many of the surrounding villages have significant concentrations of second homes. Suffolk Coastal said workers at Sizewell who paid council tax elsewhere were likely to account for some of these numbers.
Leiston-cum-Sizwell town councillor Colin Ginger said second home ownership had been increasing since the 1980s and he expected it to continue, warning about its possible effect on property prices for the next generation.
“What worries me is whether these new developments that we’ve got are going to be for young people or second home owners,” he said,
“You’ve got some people coming here who can well afford properties in Leiston but perhaps could not quite afford a second home in Aldeburgh or Southwold and that will drive up property prices.”
Housing chiefs ‘committed’ to helping local people remain in Suffolk
Council chiefs in east Suffolk say they have taken steps to provide affordable housing for local people in areas where there are large numbers of second homes.
Waveney District Council bought Duncan’s Yard in the centre of Southwold to provide 20 homes for rent by local people, while pursuing a similar scheme in neighbouring Reydon.
And Suffolk Coastal District Council has highlighted a £1.68m fund raised through developer contributions, which it intends to use to provide “the right type of housing in the right places to meet local people’s needs”.
In a joint statement, Richard Kerry and Sue Allen, who are responsible for housing at the two councils, said second home owners made “significant” contributions to the economy and its tourism industry and paid full council tax rates. They said some second homes were due to residents having their main home elsewhere but living in the districts for work.
“The challenge we face at the moment is making sure there is a balance and that there is suitable housing for local people to stay in the area,” they added.
“We don’t want to push out young people, families, and lower paid people out of the communities they have been brought up in.
“We are committed to doing so by building more homes and more affordable homes in Suffolk Coastal and Waveney to ensure more local people can afford to stay here.”
Quality holiday lets are a ‘very strong element of our attraction to visitors’
Tourism leaders in Suffolk say the use of second homes as holiday lets is “hugely important” for the county’s £1.85 billion visitor economy.
Amanda Bond, brand manager for Visit Suffolk said the “quality and quantity” of holiday rentals available in the county was “undeniably a very strong element of our attraction to visitors”.
“In choosing self-catering accommodation, visitors support local businesses by eating out and shopping locally to eat in, as well as visiting the many museums, shops, heritage sites and other attractions in the area,” she added.
“Rental properties also need looking after, so they support a variety of local employment including maintenance, cleaners and gardeners.”
Visit Suffolk’s recent “business confidence monitor” showed that two fifths of Suffolk businesses surveyed had reported a year-on-year increase in the volume of visitors with more than half saying advanced bookings for 2016 were “good” or “very good”.
“Anecdotally, the uplift in the self-catering sector was considered to be unprecedented, and we know that overseas visitors such as the Dutch market certainly prefer to rent a holiday cottage,” Ms Bond added.
“The availability of second homes as holiday lets is therefore an essential part of our attraction.”
Harry Wass, secretary of the Aldeburgh Business Association also highlighted the Suffolk Coast destination management organisation’s work to help extend the visitor season, with its promotion of events such as Aldeburgh Literary Festival, which attracted hundreds of visitors this month.
Decline in second home ownership nationally follows changes in council taxes
The number of dwellings classed as second homes throughout England has fallen by nearly 10,000 in the past two years, following changes to the way council taxes were collected.
Whereas second homes were previously entitled to a discount, since April 2013 local authorities were given new powers to decide what reductions, if any, were to be offered.
Nearly 90% of the 245,000 second homes in England last year were not subject to any discount on their council tax.
In Colchester, where the number of second homes decreased at the region’s steepest rate from 678 in 2009 to 425 last year, the borough council says the downward trend is in line with the national picture and supports the aim of bringing properties back into use.