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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 01:09 GMT 02:09 UK
Rural Welsh 'forced out' by house prices

By Wyre Davies
BBC Wales correspondent

Little Haven
Picturesque Little Haven has attracted vast numbers of outsiders
I'm not long back from a week off, with my young family, in one of my favourite spots in Wales - the delightful former fishing village of Little Haven in Pembrokeshire.

Our holiday cottage just outside the village wasn't cheap, but holidays aren't these days in this idyllic corner of Wales.

For Little Haven's charm is part of its attraction - and very much part of its problem.

In recent years the price of property here has rocketed. Even if you find a cottage for sale in this village nestling at the bottom of the valley it's unlikely you'd be able to afford it, especially if you're from the area.

Pro-active policies are the only way, say some, of protecting the way of life in rural Wales

Not long ago a two-bedroom place here sold for more than 300,000. In a part of Wales where most employment is in either tourism or agriculture, and therefore salaries are comparatively low, such a price tag is way beyond the reach of most locals.

For "moneyed" types from Cardiff, London and south east England that's less of a problem.

So, when homes do come up for sale in beautiful spots like Little Haven, the buyer is almost invariably someone from outside the area looking for a holiday home, investment or business opportunity.

'Mothballed'

All that has had a lasting impact on Little Haven and countless other similar communities, from Pembrokeshire in the south to Anglesey in the north.

As lively and vibrant as this village is during July and August, in winter months it is in virtual hibernation.

How some people are being driven out of the countryside

More than half the houses are "second" or "holiday" homes, so for seven months of the year hardly anyone lives here.

During that time the village restaurant is mothballed and there simply aren't enough permanent residents to sustain shops or services.

Locals, and young people in particular, are unable to live in the place where they were brought up.

So what, if anything, is to be done about the rapidly changing face of rural Wales and, in particular, the housing crisis facing local people?

'Interference'

As the villages that dot the coast of Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Gwynedd experience housing hyper-inflation, the shortage of affordable homes in those areas has brought calls for radical measures.

Some favour a tax on houses above a certain value, restricting the advertising of homes for sale to the immediate area or perhaps reserving a set number of low-cost homes in any new development for young local buyers.

"Interfering" with the market, especially when it is so buoyant, is always controversial and usually opposed by estate agents and related industries because of the perceived negative impact it would have on business.

But there's growing clamour for a direct political response, particularly in Ceredigion, Anglesey and Gwynedd, where the "survival" of the Welsh language is very much linked to the hot potato of housing.

"Cymuned" (Communities, in Welsh) is a Welsh-language pressure group. Its chief executive, Aran Jones, says: "Rural housing is the single biggest societal crisis facing Wales at the moment.

"I genuinely believe that politicians are doing nothing practical to help young Welsh-speaking people."

Groups like Cymuned and the Welsh Language Society favour direct financial help for young people to buy homes in the areas where they were brought up.

Positive discrimination, perhaps, but such pro-active policies are the only way, say some, of protecting the way of life in rural Wales and tackling the housing problem.

Opportunity for everyone?

The Welsh Assembly Government, too, defends itself over allegations of inaction and of allowing rising house prices to close the housing market, in some areas, to as much as 80% of first-time buyers.

The Labour-led administration in Cardiff is keen to underline the principal headline in the national housing strategy: "That everyone should have the opportunity to live in good quality, affordable housing and to be able to choose where they live".

Welsh village
Many are worried for the future of the Welsh language and culture
That strategy requires local authorities to include in their own local development plans policies to address the need for affordable housing.

In practice that means more than 6,000 new homes in Ceredigion, 12,000 in Carmarthenshire and a recommendation for at least 2,000 hew houses on Anglesey.

Perhaps predictably, there's no pleasing everyone.

Whilst calling on one hand for indigenous communities and their way of life to be protected, some now argue that to simply build thousands of new homes in rural Wales could encourage even more incomers.

They say new housing has to be the "right kind of new housing."

Despite fierce political challenges to housing policies in some parts of Wales, it is generally agreed that if spiralling prices are to be reeled in, something needs to be done.

In the meantime, amid speculation elsewhere in the country that prices are finally falling back, rural Wales is still experiencing annual price increases of more than 40%, and the list of those who can afford to buy gets smaller and smaller.

What price a two-bedroom cottage in Little Haven this time next year?


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