Part (5) – The affordability conundrum

Nobody denies that there is a problem here.  In certain parts of Wales, local housing stocks are limited, and the demand for them has driven up the price.  There are other parts of Wales where this is certainly not the case, and where any inability of locals to get on the housing ladder will have almost nothing to do with external individuals or businesses speculating, or with those egregious ‘second-home’ owners.

Of course, what one really wants to understand is why demand outstrips supply in certain areas, and why locals are being squeezed out.  Historically, in places like Pembrokeshire, especially in coastal areas, the local planning laws have (justifiably) restricted the development of affordable housing estates in locations of great natural beauty.  This must be a considered policy by the Local Authority – tourism brings in substantial revenues for the area, and provides a great deal of the employment, so we want to attract tourists, right? Perhaps it is almost too obvious a point to make, but if we’re going to choose to accommodate visiting tourists, then that choice presupposes the existence of ‘second homes’ unless we restrict choices to things like caravans and hotels.

And to bring the tourists in, we need properties of the right grade to accommodate them.  Who’s going to pay for those?  The answer would seem to be that if locals are either unable or unwilling to foot the bill, then others (from outside) may do so.  I can see why that might be misconstrued, and some will be disappointed by the nature of the outcomes, but none of this is rocket-science.  And you can’t therefore blame any adverse outcomes on a single set of culprits, which seems to be the approach taken by local and national politicians.

One set of policy decisions necessarily give rise to constraints and outworkings that may not be to everyone’s liking.  Making one particular group of taxpayers bear the brunt of those consequences seems to run contrary to the principles of our legal system.

There are other facets to the subject which need to be taken into consideration.  Regrettably, even within the Principality, there are some areas which are objectively more beautiful than others.  It is hardly a surprise that some villages and towns have higher than average property prices than others – this is true all over the UK.  I may want to live in an exclusive hamlet in Surrey, but I accept that I am not as well-heeled as all those celebs who already live there.  There are reasons why properties in certain areas cost more – and those reasons may go back thirty, fifty years or more.  We can’t all have what we want, it’s a simple fact of life.

So let’s assume that the basic line of argument is valid:  local housing has become less affordable for locals.  How does it help to make that same housing less affordable for people like me?  If, as is likely, I will be forced to sell my retirement home in a year or so (when the hike in Council Tax really bites), how is that outcome going to benefit local people?  Assuming that there is some kind of logic playing out here (and that’s a big assumption), perhaps the politicians believe that this will have the impact of depressing local house prices, thus making my home more affordable than it currently is.  Certainly, those from outside the area looking for investment properties are going to think very carefully before taking on Council Tax charges running at 300% of the going rate.  That consideration might naturally depress prices.

In the absence of any other explicitly articulated rationale, this explanation acquires a narrative power that one would prefer it not to have.  If that is the case, beyond the penal tax increase already experienced, local and national government would be expecting people like me to subsidise their social experiments by taking a hit on the value of a valuable retirement asset.  They would be deliberately engineering detriment for taxpayers.

Is that the case?  Is that what we are looking at here?  So far, there are no indications to the contrary.


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