Suffolk: Second homes and rental properties risk “taking heart out” of coastal towns

SECOND homes and rental properties risk “taking the heart out” of Suffolk’s coast if left uncapped, it has been claimed.

The debate over the high numbers of houses available to rent and the percentage of second homes continues to divide Aldeburgh, with many people upset about the number of empty properties, especially in winter.

But business chiefs say the boom in rental properties attract trade all year round and rental company Best of Suffolk says holiday cottage guests spend at least �1.5million each year in the town.

A recent report into neighbouring Southwold revealed second homes and holiday homes in the resort now make up about 49% of its total housing stock and the adult population has dropped by 27% in the past 11 years.

Aldeburgh resident of 20 years Laurie Wiseman believes his town will face a similar fate if the situation is left uncapped.

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He said: “Over the past few years commercial holiday letting agencies have been very active in both Southwold and Aldeburgh.

“This has encouraged the growth of properties being purchased for holiday lets to the exclusion of purchases by people to live in and contribute to community life in both towns.

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“Some once-thriving organisations in Aldeburgh are now finding themselves having to tout for members when once they had waiting lists.

“The success of these holiday letting agencies comes at the cost of taking the heart out of the communities of both these beautiful coastal towns.”

Tony Bone, of the Aldeburgh Society, which aims to preserve the character of the town, agreed. He said Aldeburgh was at risk of becoming a ghost town during certain months.

“Our biggest concern is with the number of empty homes,” he said. “There seems to be a cluster of empty homes, especially in the quieter months, between the High Street and the seafront.

“It has a detrimental effect – no-one wants to live in a deserted town for half the year. There needs to be a way to cap the number of second and rental homes.”

But Rob Mabey, vice-chairman of the Aldeburgh Business Association, believes the number of homes available to rent has increased footfall in the town.

“In the past, many businesses used to close down in the winter – that’s rarely the case anymore. The holidaymakers are bringing more all-year-round employment to Aldeburgh and boosting our local economy,” he said.

“Aldeburgh is now busier in the winter than it has ever been, and the holiday homes in the town that are either let out or frequently used are a key to this.”

Mr Mabey added that the association was working with venues such as the Jubilee Hall to organise community events to unite local people and holidaymakers,

Ruth Proctor, Aldeburgh Town Council clerk, said: “While tourism plays a vibrant role in Aldeburgh’s economy, it is vital that there is sufficient affordable housing for local people who contribute all year round to Aldeburgh’s community.

“This is a perennial and finely-balanced argument, often out of the town council’s control, which is why we are particularly pleased about the construction of five new homes, off Springfield Road, specifically for people with local connections.”

Naomi Tarry, director of Best of Suffolk, said: “Over the past six years we have worked hard at Best of Suffolk to increase the quality of holiday accommodation in Aldeburgh, and the result is that individual holiday cottages are now occupied much more than they used to be, particularly in the wintertime which was traditionally very quiet.

“We estimate that our holiday cottage guests spend at least �1.5m a year while they are in Aldeburgh, and this is a vital injection into the local economy, helping to provide local employment and supporting local amenities.

“Also, we have noticed a new trend this year – second homes that were previously empty for large periods of the year are now being let out, which is good news for Aldeburgh’s shops, restaurants and service providers.”

Businesses cope with quiet months

WITH a largely transient population, Southwold has long been accustomed to a lull in trade during the winter months – but customer loyalty and trader resilience mean businesses are able to stand the chill.

Almost half the town’s homeowners are temporary residents – some visiting for the summer and others less frequently – so, after the holiday boom, custom inevitably dips.

Naturally, the team at Beaches and Cream, which opened earlier this year, expect sales of items such as ice cream to dwindle in the run-up to Christmas.

But they remain adaptable, with an adjoining restaurant, Coasters, still doing a brisk trade. Manager Lizzy Spindler said: “We were prepared for business to slow down during the winter.

“People are still visiting at this time of year and we expect Christmas to bring people in. We know November, January and February will be slow but we also know that in the summer we’ll be busy again.

“Perhaps some new businesses see how busy it is in the summer and expect it to continue all year round – but people do stay loyal and the regulars will keep returning.”

Pete and Clare Hart run Chapmans newsagents. Mrs Hart said: “There is a definite peak during the summer and a smaller peak at Christmas, but not like bigger towns and cities where it’s the busiest time of the year, so we do rely on local customers.

“We’re lucky because we stock things that can be sold all year.”

Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, who also runs the post office in the town’s High Street, added: “We have a very loyal following from local people, and from many second home owners, who support us out of season.

“But it’s not just about the summer and winter – in two weeks we’ll be changing gear for half-term, and then Christmas is coming. Even so, businesses have to manage their cashflow fairly smartly.”

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