House key workers in empty second homes, campaigners demand

A quiet Southwold during lockdown Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A quiet Southwold during lockdown Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have called for second home owners to open up vacant properties to key workers during the coronavirus crisis.

At the last count, there were 6,218 second homes in Suffolk – two thirds located in East Suffolk, which includes the seaside towns of Southwold and Aldeburgh.

Meanwhile, 2,617 long-term vacant homes stood empty for more than six months last year.

Action on Empty Homes wants the government to adopt a three-point action plan to provide essential workers accommodation close to hospitals and workplaces in the coming weeks.

The charity said 100,000 Airbnb lets also currently stood empty across the country, although the company has now blocked UK rentals from taking new bookings until no sooner than April 18, unless reserved for key workers.

Will McMahon, director of Action on Empty Homes, said: “Every person and company who has a housing resource that can help with the emergency should step forward now.

“Local councils should ask homeowners to volunteer second or habitable long-term empty homes for use by essential workers.

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“Airbnb should be compelled to share data necessary to identify whole house lets close to hospitals.

“Companies that are no longer using staff flats should step forward and offer them for use.

“We need everyone to be pulling in the same direction.”

As the public were urged to stay at home over Easter, amid fears a warm weekend could see lockdown rules broken, Annie Willey, of the Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation, said residents had seen an “awful lot” of second home owners coming to the area recently, particularly in Aldeburgh and Southwold.

She said anyone visiting over Easter was giving a “slap in the face” to businesses, which had battled “stress and pressure” to close doors because of the virus.

In Southwold, where 60% of properties are second homes, councillors erected banners which read: “Please respect us, don’t infect us” earlier this month.

The signs were removed after reports of a quiet weekend and following council discussions.

In Lowestoft, an empty sheltered housing property, at Avenue Mansions on Royal Avenue, has been brought back into use by the district council to house vulnerable people in need during the crisis.

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