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Report on rural and coastal housing crisis identifies ‘ghost enclaves’ of low-use homes and calls for action on second homes and short lets

15 May 2024

A 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.

Released today (May 15th 2024), 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.

Quotes from report interviewees: “You're not competing like for like, you're competing against property developers, investment buyers, cash buyers as well. It's not an easy market to buy into. There really won't be anything in the town for first-time buyers...” (Resident, Northern Ireland)

“This tension is very evident ..the ordinary population cannot get a GP appointment or can’t get some kind of public service because they’re short staffed and it’s well known, locally, that the reason they’re short staffed is because they can’t attract people and the reason they can’t attract people is because people can’t afford to live there.” (Campaigner, Scotland)

Rebecca Moore, Director of Action on Empty Homes said:

‘This research shows how current policy is failing communities across the country. We need homes for local people and keyworkers protected, as well as the opportunity for vibrant visitor economies. No-one wants to visit the ‘ghost enclaves’ the report has found, where services are non-existent, and communities are gone. People say our property market in tourist hotspots is like the Wild West – this report shows it’s the wild North, South, East and West. Those communities are rightly demanding change.’

Vivienne Jackson, Programme Manager, abrdn Financial Fairness Trust said:

‘People on low-to-middle incomes who live in rural or coastal areas can lose out badly if second homes aren’t properly regulated and managed. The recommendations here call on government and local councils to take the action needed to balance the needs of local residents and workers, alongside the requirements of the tourist industry where that plays a big local role.”

Read the executive summary

Read the report