Should we really be blaming second home owners during coronavirus crisis?

Southwold beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Southwold beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

One of the things that has occurred to me while the country has been dealing with the single largest health crisis for more than a generation is that number of column inches dedicated to the ownership and use of second homes in Suffolk and across the UK seems disproportionate.

A sign was been placed on the A12 leading into Southwold early on during the lockdown, encouraging s

A sign was been placed on the A12 leading into Southwold early on during the lockdown, encouraging second home owners to stay away Picture: DAVID BEAVAN - Credit: Archant

Do we really believe that by keeping such a tiny percentage of people nationally away from their second homes can have a real impact on flattening the curve, or are we witnessing something more sociological playing out here?

Whilst being a second homer myself, I fully appreciate and agree that we should seek to protect our rural communities wherever possible.

However, the recent response to the outbreak of Covid-19 felt far more like an opportunity for many ‘locals’ to legitimately air existing deep-rooted resentment towards those fortunate enough to enjoy a second home in ‘their seaside area’.

This becomes even more unacceptable when it appears to be endorsed in the media by photos of local councillors and officials standing boldly in front of a “second homers don’t infect us” banner.

Southwold beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Southwold beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

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I could draw a more extreme parallel to a very disturbing article in February at the start of the Covid-19 crisis. It described a young man of Chinese origin that had been verbally abused by youths on a train and accused of spreading the virus.

It transpired he was from Bromley and couldn’t even point to Wuhan on a map but, regardless of the fact that the accusations were based on nothing but pure ignorance, it provided a vehicle for the abusers to feel legitimised to voice their prejudices.

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Perhaps therefore in Suffolk, this is an opportunity to remind people that second home owning isn’t a form of modern colonialism. In fact, many second homers also consider themselves as ‘locals’ by virtue of owning a home in an area they have chosen to live in, second or otherwise.

They pay taxes which contribute to local services in an area, bring jobs and industry to an area, bring revenue to local businesses in an area, improve house prices and capital growth in an area and maybe therefore, like it or not, have just as much right to be in an area as those who happened to have been born there.

Similar to the victim on the train, if these same prejudices were transposed to inner city London and targeted at an immigrant population, they would be quite rightly labelled offensive and racist.

But in coastal Suffolk, it is perfectly legitimate and even supported by the councillors, providing the intended target has driven his Volvo up the A12 from London on a Friday evening.

Furthermore, it also raises a question over what beautiful little seaside towns like Southwold would be like if it wasn’t for second owners.

No beach huts lining the promenade, certainly no pier, no restaurants and pubs, the lighthouse could have become inactive and derelict rather than being restored, it’s unlikely in my view that Adnams would still be located in the town - in fact none of the hallmarks of a Victorian seaside town that we love would exist.

Local communities would have gradually decayed due to the lack of opportunity and the young being forced to leave to find work elsewhere. A very different and a very sad outcome.

Finally, to bring this back specifically to the topic of Covid-19, maybe we should be pointing the finger of blame at local government and not second home owners?

As an equal council tax and income tax payer in both London and Suffolk, surely I should expect facilities in both areas to be scaled up to account for the needs of my household, and not be told that I need to stay away in a crisis to avoid over burdening resources.

Why have resources not been scaled to meet the tax paying population in the area, just because some folk also have property in London? Where has all this tax revenue gone?

Maybe the next time I see two of my local councillors proudly standing in front of a sign advising me to go home, I’ll stop and ask them.

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