On Saturday, November 21st, three ‘Wales is not for Sale’ rallies were held by Cymdeithas yr Iaith addressing the issue of holiday homes – in Llanberis, Aberaeron and Carmarthen.
We were soaked through and Lake Padarn was bleak and grey. Llanberis in the rain is quite different from Llanberis in summer. As the tourists cannot visit Wales, it is relatively quiet in the village at the moment. The long line of camper-vans has disappeared, and it’s possible to grab a place in the car park. We have the opportunity to breathe. But in a few days normal service will resume. People flocking to their second homes, whilst locals are unable to afford to live in their own communities. It’s just so unfair.
I’ve not done this before, so I thought I’d go on a virtual journey through the years, past the holiday homes I’ve occupied.
BETTWS GARMON, July 1976
My first act was to break the window of a holiday home to highlight the number of second homes in Wales. Edward H. Dafis had encapsulated the issue in their classic song ‘Tŷ Haf’,
‘Oh it’s nice, to live in a holiday home! It’s so fine, to have two houses that are mine,
Oh, I love coming to Wales, and I come every step from Surrey every summer…’
Cymdeithas yr Iaith had only been operating in this area for some 3 years. One of the most famous rallies was the one in Rhyd where every house in the village was a holiday home.
Another sad example was Derwen Gam when an entire village, owned by one family, was sold in Ceredigion. The Welsh disappeared and people from England came in.
PORTHMADOG, January 1977
These were houses on the quay in Porthmadog – houses that were clearly purposely built as holiday homes; I remember Vaughan Roderick was among those of us who occupied this house. The Government had taken no action to address the situation.
BANGOR, January 1982
It was not a specific house this time, but houses. Since 1979, holiday homes were being burned by Meibion Glyndŵr, and so Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s attention was directed towards rallies against unneeded housing estates such as those in Gaerwen and Harlech. In January 1982, the introduction of a card to Wyn Roberts read ‘A Better New Year for the 1,922 families on the housing waiting list in Aberconwy and Arfon’. By the Steddfod there were slogans on the Welsh Office stand ‘18,000 holiday homes – Disgrace!’ The Government did nothing.
LLIDIARDAU, April 1983
This was not someone’s holiday home. It belonged to a Conservative Member of Parliament, Anthony Steen. It was the same old story – rich people can afford two houses, others can’t afford the one. The Government did not act at all on the matter
BLAENAU FFESTINIOG 1987
We occupied an empty house on this occasion, to show that a property in a village can be restored and rented to local people. But the situation was rapidly worsening, and this was the start of the ‘Wales is not for Sale’ campaign with myself and Dyfed Wyn Edwards leading the campaign. One victory in housing was to get the Welsh Office to reject developers’ appeal on the grounds of endangering the Welsh language. But in housing, councils no longer had the right to buy houses.
The Wales is Not for Sale campaign went on to become one of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s most popular campaigns. The culmination of the campaign was Alun Llwyd and Branwen Nicholas being imprisoned in the early Nineties, and hundreds attending rallies in support of the campaign.
Thirty years have passed since then, and the situation is as bad as it has ever been.
Wales now has its own Parliament, but it has not taken any steps to prevent holiday homes. You can’t interfere in the free market, is the excuse we hear regularly.
But the problem is as serious as ever.
Elin Hywel, Mabon ap Gwynfor and Rhys Tudur spoke at the rally in Llanberis. Last year, in Gwynedd, 40% of the houses purchased in the county were summer houses. Can you believe it? 30 years ago, Mabon, Rhys and Elin were children. During his lifetime Rhys Tudur has seen Morfa Nefyn, his home village, change its character – more and more summer houses, and fewer local people can afford a house. Covid has made a bad situation a disastrous one. A house barely reaches the market before an outsider has bought it to be a holiday homes or Airbnb. 60% of the population of Gwynedd cannot afford a house. It is now a matter of urgency for the Welsh Government to do something. 6,000 people have signed a petition to call for the matter to be debated in the Senedd. Unless something is done soon, it will be too late to change the situation.
And what of my situation, now? Well, I managed to buy a house in Penygroes in the mid-Nineties. It’s a semi-detached house, and I remember my English neighbour when I bought it, looking at me quite anxiously.
“I hear people like you burn English people’s houses” he said. I responded that it would be very silly of me to put a match to a house next door to me – even if I agreed with such a tactic. Deep down, Ernie and I understood each other. But Ernie died, and now, like some sort of bad joke, next door has for seven years been a holiday home.
Yes, Edward H’s song came true in my case. Although the owners hail from Bedford, rather than Surrey.
Mae eisiau gras ‘toes?