Most people think of Cornwall as a rich county, full of life and beautiful scenery. But is this really all it is?
Many towns in Cornwall are upmarket, with newly built houses and popular shops… However, there is also another side to Cornwall if you look past the surface. In some areas of Cornwall, people find themselves in poverty, struggling to make ends meet, along with rundown shops, less job opportunities and support. Locals who have been brought up here would hate to be driven out of their home towns, however, with house prices on the rise, and holiday makers eyeing up newly built properties, this is starting to become a problem, especially for young families.
Even though this has caused an increase in the number of homes in Cornwall being owned by holiday makers, (Up to 50% of houses in the county), since the lockdown, it has meant that second homes have been inhabited for longer periods of time than usual. This has meant that more deprived areas haven’t been as soulless and empty, even if it isn’t all locals wandering around. Author Simon Reeve, interviewed Catrina Davies on her view about the current housing situation, here in Cornwall. Her belief is that homes are currently “unaffordable for youngsters” and that this isn’t a ‘housing crisis’ which we are experiencing, but rather an “affordability crisis”. As the population grows in Cornwall, more and more houses are being built within a quick space of time, but is this wasteful? Catrina thinks that when it comes to homes “there are plenty of empty ones – but no one can afford to live in them.” Her article ‘People, Poverty, Power’ highlights that by wasting resources on building new houses, it only makes for an increasingly unaffordable future for future generations.
Before Cornwall became a popular tourist destination for people in the UK, Cornwall heavily relied on the mining and fishing industries, with tourism alongside these. Farmers used to provide holiday accommodation for tourists, before holiday resorts became people’s first choice when staying down in Cornwall. As house prices started to increase, the amount of farmers offering holiday accommodation began to decrease. In 1968, a total of 1,948 farmers provided holiday accommodation, compared to a total of 137 in 2007. This shows how dramatically industries changed in Cornwall over time, and as mining and fishing became less popular fields of work, tourism became more prominent and important as the main source of income.
Questions around the affordability of homes here in Cornwall, is something which has been looked into previously, and has cropped up a lot when referring to young people moving out. It’s been discovered that ‘Our county is the second poorest region in Northern Europe’, and in the financial year of 2017/18, the percentage of property transactions which were second homes rose to 27%. This is up from 24% the previous year, showing that the amount of people buying their second homes is gradually increasing (Cornwall Live). As this increases, the less amount of homes available to younger people, let alone the rising price tag which is supposedly classed as ‘affordable’. Padstow has more holiday homes than anywhere in Cornwall, and is recognised and renowned for being an upmarket harbour town, visited by thousands of tourists each year. House prices in Padstow can now reach over a million! If people have the money, they are willing to pay for a beautiful view across the estuary.
So why has Cornwall become a place which is so desirable… That people are willing to travel hours to get to? Cornwall used to be a place which was massively inhabited by locals – fishermen, miners and working class people. However, since Cornwall has evolved to become much more middle and upper class, it has changed the dynamic and feel to a place which felt like one big community. Since people found an escapism in coming down to Cornwall for a summer holiday, the price people were willing to pay began to increase. With cottages situated by the harbour, once only inhabited by a local family, becoming hugely sought after by holiday makers to fulfil their perfect Cornish getaway. Here in Cornwall, there is a kind of peaceful nature and element of escapism which is particularly attractive to those who are usually surrounded by built up areas and city life. With 55% of the global population living in cities, there is no wonder people look to have a holiday where they can breathe in some fresh air! Something which is really positive about visiting Cornwall, is that it can help to improve people’s mental health quite dramatically. Coastal walks have been proven to help boost mental health and even tackle depression after spending just 20 minutes in a beach setting. This is something which is good about tourists visiting Cornwall, as mental health is an important factor to everyone’s well being, and is probably something which locals take for granted with many beaches on their doorstep.
Even though there are still many locals living in Cornwall, when it comes to who is visiting small businesses and shops, a lot of business owners rely on tourists visiting for the main bulk of their income. From speaking to Helen Morton, a local business owner of Kilncraft – a paint a pot studio in Wadebridge, i learned more about this topic from her experience. Helen mainly relies on tourists visiting her shop during half term, Easter and Summer holidays. As “the school holidays are the only time we get a boost to our economy and businesses” with “the six week Summer being the main time businesses bring in income.” Due to the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic, during July and August this year, many people from other areas of the country fled to Cornwall for a holiday, whilst travelling abroad was banned. However, in general, over the last few years less people have been holidaying in Cornwall, but with more second home owners. As the prime locations in Cornwall only continue to rise, as more valuable spots by the sea become available.
As there is a large presence of holiday homes in Cornwall, jobs which involve cleaning and maintaining them are taken up by many locals, which are usually highly paid per hour. Although these jobs work well alongside someone’s main income, they usually act as a ‘top up’ to monthly earnings, and are definitely something which is seasonal – lots of work during the Summer months and very little during the Winter. Therefore cleaning holiday homes cannot be relied upon as a stable job, with cleaners often being treated unfairly by holiday makers when they leave the house trashed after their stay. Helen cleaned holiday homes for three years, but after noticing “the inequalities in our county” as locals cannot “afford to buy a first home” due to luxury second homes everywhere, she realised this wasn’t a job she wanted to pursue for any longer. This links back to the ‘affordability crisis’ highlighted by Catrina Davies, which is brought up so often when discussing holiday makers and the real effect they are having on the locals and the county.
Currently, holiday homes are seen as being vital, as they have helped to boost the economy in Cornwall. But for local business owners like Helen, they have become “completely reliant on the summer trade which is detrimental to real local Cornish people, to businesses and families”. In order to try and keep most of the locals Helen was attracting, but to make a bigger profit, she had a complete rebrand of her shop, from a hardware shop, to a paint a pot studio, as well as a shop selling some essentials and hot drinks. She felt this would allow people to have a fun experience, whilst keeping locals loyalty, as they are used to visiting her previous business. Helen rents a three bedroom semi detached house which is worth £300,000, but is still classed as ‘affordable’! The problem for young people is that there are not enough jobs available which are secure and well paid, they are usually part time and seasonal, making it extremely difficult to afford to buy their first home in Cornwall. This goes back to why locals feel as though they’re being pushed out, as they have no choice but to find a new job and start their lives elsewhere. Locals tend to love living here, but it is full of inequality and poverty, and even though holiday makers help to boost the economy each year, locals are not always able to benefit from this.
The prices of holiday homes continuing to rise are due to the amount of second home ownership increasing, which then has an impact on average house prices in the area. This is because holiday makers aren’t generally attracted to low value housing markets, so the higher value areas push up house prices, because of the high budgets which second home owners have. In 2015, “second homes accounted for more than 35% of all housing, the average house price is 87% above the Cornwall average,” (GOV UK). Unfortunately, this means that some local buyers are then priced out of some of Cornwall’s housing markets, which we have seen to be more prominent recently. The problem is that because of the predicted 7% increase of second home owners, more houses are being built under the consideration of the “current levels of second and holiday home ownership,”. Meaning that even though these homes aren’t being built specifically as holiday homes, they are still being built so that they are able to accommodate holiday makers who are likely to be interested. However, in some areas of Cornwall such as St Ives and Mevagissey, they have policies into their neighbourhood development plans, stating that any new homes built cannot be sold as second homes.
Some second home owners have even found a loophole in which they avoid paying council taxes or business rates on their properties, by registering them as businesses but below the threshold of business rates to apply. It was discovered that over 6,000 properties were using this tactic, and if this problem were resolved it would be worth another £10 million a year to Cornwall Council! This could be extremely beneficial for providing more housing for locals struggling to get on the housing ladder.
But what is the dynamic of second home owners? The majority of people who own second homes in Cornwall have a main address in London, the South East and the South West (excluding Cornwall). These are areas which have many cities, but also include affluent areas of the country such as Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire. It explains why they are able to purchase a second home in such a scenic and vast area of the country, which differs to the place they live in for the majority of the year.
Whilst it is clear to see that holiday homes do provide some jobs for locals, along with putting lots of money into the economy, the presence of them here in Cornwall isn’t completely beneficial. With new housing being built, which still feels out of reach to many people in Cornwall, it’s causing a rise in second homes being bought. With the increase of holiday makers living in Cornwall, businesses find themselves relying upon them for sales, as locals are gradually being pushed out. This causes locals to contribute less to local businesses, as many are fed up of the ongoing poverty and the housing/affordability crisis which is evident within Cornwall. Although locals love to live in a place surrounded by beautiful scenery, lots of beaches and an abundance of cafe’s, the sad truth is that if something isn’t done about preserving homes for locals and reducing house prices so that families can afford to stay in their home towns, then soon our county will be full of second home owners, and without the locals who made Cornwall the place it is.