Welsh housing crisis

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House prices increased in Wales during the Housing market crisis in the United Kingdom (2008). There has been political debate that this has contributed to a decline in the number of speakers of the Welsh language.

Property market[edit]

Much of the rural Welsh property market was driven by buyers looking for second homes for use as holiday homes, or for retirement. Many buyers were drawn to Wales from England because of relatively inexpensive house prices in Wales as compared to house prices in England.[1][2] The rise in home prices outpaced the average earnings income in Wales and meant that many local people could not afford to purchase their first home.[2]

In 2001 nearly a third of all properties in Gwynedd were bought by buyers from out of the county, and with some communities reporting as many as a third of local homes used as holiday homes.[3][4] Holiday home owners spend less than six months of the year in the local community.

Welsh language[edit]

According to the 2001 census the number of Welsh speakers in Wales increased for the first time in over 100 years, with 20.5% in a population of over 2.9 million claiming fluency in Welsh, or one in five.[5] Additionally, 28% of the population of Wales claimed to understand Welsh.[5] However, the number of Welsh speakers declined in Gwynedd from 72.1% in 1991 to 68.7% in 2001.[5]

Prior to 2001, there had been a decline in Welsh speakers in the Gwynedd region[citation needed] which includes the Llŷn Peninsula. This decline may have been attributable to non Welsh speaking residents moving to North Wales, driving up property rates above what local Welsh speakers may afford, according to former Gwynedd county councillor Seimon Glyn of Plaid Cymru, whose controversial comments in 2001 focused attention on the issue.[6] Glyn was commenting on a report underscoring the problem of rocketing house prices outstripping what locals could pay, with the report warning that '...traditional Welsh communities could die out..." as a consequence.[7]

By 2003 however, a survey of schools showed that just over 94% of children between 3 and 15 were able to speak Welsh, making Llŷn one of the foremost heartlands for the language, though – as with the rest of Northwest Wales – there have been concerns that the influx of English speakers are damaging the standing of Welsh.

Influence of the property market on Welsh language[edit]

The issue of locals being priced out of the local housing market is common to many rural communities throughout Britain, but in Wales the added dimension of language further complicated the issue, as many new residents did not learn the Welsh language,[3][8][9][10] and in 1996 there had been large protests, backed by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, against the construction of 800 houses at Morfa Bychan near Porthmadog. [11]

Political action against second-home ownership[edit]

Concerned for the Welsh language under these pressures, Glyn said "Once you have more than 50% of anybody living in a community that speaks a foreign language, then you lose your indigenous tongue almost immediately".[12]

Plaid Cymru had long advocated controls on second homes, and a 2001 task force headed by Dafydd Wigley recommended land should be allocated for affordable local housing, and called for grants for locals to buy houses, and recommended council tax on holiday homes should double, following similar measures in the Scottish Highlands.[4][8][12]

However the Welsh Labour-Liberal Democrat Assembly coalition rebuffed these proposals, with Assembly housing spokesman Peter Black stating that "we [can not] frame our planning laws around the Welsh language", adding "Nor can we take punitive measures against second home owners in the way that they propose as these will have an impact on the value of the homes of local people".[12]

By autumn 2001 the Exmoor National Park authority in England began consideration to limit second home ownership there which was also driving up local housing prices by as much as 31%.[9] Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru's Parliamentary Group Leader, said that the issues in Exmoor National Park were the same as in Wales, however in Wales there is the added dimension of language and culture.[9]

Reflecting on the controversy Glyn's comments caused earlier in the year, Llwyd observed "What is interesting is of course it is fine for Exmoor to defend their community but in Wales when you try to say these things it is called racist..."[9]

Llwyd called on other parties to join in a debate to bring the Exmoor experience to Wales when he said "... I really do ask them and I plead with them to come around the table and talk about the Exmoor suggestion and see if we can now bring it into Wales".[9]

By spring 2002 both the Snowdonia National Park (Welsh: Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri) and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (Welsh: Parc Cenedlaethol Arfordir Penfro) authorities began limiting second home ownership within the parks, following the example set by Exmoor.[13] According to planners in Snowdonia and Pembroke applicants for new homes must demonstrate a proven local need or the applicant had strong links with the area.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Property prices in England and Wales Wednesday, 8 August 2001, extracted 24 Jan 2008
  2. ^ a b House prices outpacing incomes Monday, 3 December 2001, extracted 24 Jan 2008
  3. ^ a b Apology over 'insults' to English, BBC Wales, 3 September 2001
  4. ^ a b UK: Wales Plaid calls for second home controls, BBC Wales, 17 November 1999
  5. ^ a b c Census shows Welsh language rise Friday, 14 February 2003 extracted 12-04-07
  6. ^ Plaid bids to defuse 'racism' row, BBC Wales, 21 February 2001
  7. ^ 'Racist' remarks lost Plaid votes, BBC Wales, 3 September 2001
  8. ^ a b Double tax for holiday home owners Thursday, 16 December 1999, extracted 24 Jan 2008
  9. ^ a b c d e Controls on second homes reviewed Wednesday, 5 September 2001 extracted 24 Jan 2008
  10. ^ Gwynedd considers holiday home curb Tuesday, 9 April 2002, extracted 24 Jan 2008
  11. ^ See e.g. Remember 1996, BBC Cymru (in Welsh, extracted 1 Feb 2008).
    The protests followed a High Court decision that planning permission given in 1964 was still valid, which Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg described as a "scandal" in a 1998 report – Dewch gyda ni! (Come with us!), (extracted 1 Feb 2008).
    The owners of the site later entered a legal agreement with the council which allowed building of a caravan site on part of the site, but which set aside the earlier permission for the houses; the council later also settled a compensation claim by the developers for its handling of the matter; see 25 year legal case ends as Welsh council pay £1.9 million, NewsWales (extracted 1 Feb 2008)
  12. ^ a b c Plaid plan 'protects' rural areas, BBC Wales, 19 June 2001
  13. ^ Park to ban new holiday homes Wednesday, 6 March 2002 extracted 24 Jan 2008