This research project led by the University of Sheffield has identified ‘ghost enclaves’: areas with over 25% of property that is low use or out of use. Areas featuring these enclaves include Cornwall, Dorset, Gwynedd, Argyll and Bute, North Norfolk and Scarborough.

Interviews in the research with local decision-makers and residents in low-use home areas show that communities lose population and key services, because of high housing costs. Impacts include: a shortage of key workers for the NHS and tourism – an essential sector in rural and coastal areas; and school closures.

The report also shows areas in rural and coastal Britain where more than 1 in 20 (5%) of homes are low use or empty. Rural and coastal areas with this level of emptiness and low use are widespread and can be found from Suffolk to South Lakeland, Ceredigion to the Cotswolds and from the Malvern Hills to Richmondshire in North Yorkshire.

Led by Professor Rowland Atkinson at the University of Sheffield, the research uses a mix of innovative mapping, developed by low use property data expert Dr. Jonathan Bourne at University College London, with interviews with communities impacted across the four nations of the UK.

The research has been funded by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust and is produced with campaigning charity Action on Empty Homes.

The report calls for changes which will help to produce more affordable homes for local people, particularly those on low-to-middle incomes:

Introduction of local stamp duty with proceeds going to local authorities not central Government

Ringfence income from second homes Council Tax premiums and stamp duty for local affordable housing projects

Power to limit second homes and Airbnbs locally at Council level through planning permission and licensing schemes

More transparent data so responsible lenders can limit lending on second homes and investor holiday lets, as being trialled in North Yorkshire by Leeds Building Society

Improve councils’ access to data, to better understand the tourist economy’s impact on housing and allow them to plan locally affordable housing supply.

Limit the letting of primary residences on short let platforms (such as Airbnb) to 30 days, as in Amsterdam, and not 90 days as Government is suggesting in response to consultations on Short Lets Licensing (currently in force in London).

Improve supply of social and affordable housing and suspend Right To Buy in England, as in Wales and Scotland

Make better use of empty homes and create a new national Empty Homes Programme

Improve regional policy to reduce inequalities between regions which exacerbate problems through differences in asset values and buying power between richer and poorer regions.

Key findings

Local authorities with higher overall proportions of low-use property can be found in parts of Wales, the South West of England and East Anglia, and Argyll & Bute and the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.

Second homes were often seen to increase housing prices as it was usually wealthier buyers from outside the area able to afford them. At the same time, low-use homes remove properties from the market that might be used as permanent residences.

The proliferation of low-use properties is impacting many local economies, as well as the ability to provide services in rural and coastal areas, where tourism is often a key pillar of the local economy.  

Some participants felt that communities were being ‘hollowed out’ by the heightened presence of low-use homes and the loss of permanent residents.