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‘Holiday lets have ripped the heart out of our seaside town’

Russell Kingston and Jessica Turrell run a pottery shop in Lynmouth, which is 'basically empty' over winter - Matt Glover Photography
Russell Kingston and Jessica Turrell run a pottery shop in Lynmouth, which is 'basically empty' over winter - Matt Glover Photography

Lynmouth is one of the most isolated villages in England. Located on the north coast of Devon, the tiny settlement is 14 miles from the nearest major town, and residents must drive 30 minutes before they reach a secondary school.

Despite its remote location, Lynmouth’s stunning coastline views and picturesque walks make it a hotbed for tourists, a fact Russell Kingston, 35, knows all too well. “There is nowhere to park in summer, so all you see is people driving around looking for somewhere to leave their car,” he says.

By contrast, the village is “basically empty” in the winter months, Kingston says. This is because a vast share of the cottages and flats in the area are holiday lets – and sit empty outside of holiday periods.


This could soon change as the Government has announced plans to crack down on landlords who own holiday lets, amid concerns residents were being “pushed out of cherished towns, cities and villages by huge numbers of short-term lets”.

Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, said: “I’m determined that we ensure more people have access to local homes at affordable prices, and that we prioritise families desperate to rent or buy a home of their own close to where they work.”

For residents like Kingston, who runs a pottery shop with fellow artist Jessica Turrell, the crackdown has been a long time coming. “It’s a housing crisis – that’s what I would call it,” he says. “There’s nowhere for people to rent here. I had to wait two years to find somewhere.”

Landlords argue that holiday lets contribute to local economies as they provide necessary accommodation for tourists. But Kingston says the opposite is true.

“This village was built on tourism and there are so many B&Bs already. Those houses are built to be B&Bs. Someone is living there and providing the service. That’s a job, a house, and a business.”

The result is that workers required to meet the demand of the influx of summer tourists – cleaners, waiters, and shop assistants – cannot find anywhere in the area to rent. “People buy holiday lets because they like a place, and that’s fair enough, but then that place becomes starved of workers,” says Kingston.

Holiday let ownership soared in the wake of the pandemic, as buy-to-let investors capitalised on increased demand for staycations and a stamp duty holiday, which made it cheaper to buy second homes.

Former minister Theresa Villiers has warned that the ballooning number of holiday lets has reduced the number of affordable houses available and in turn increases the pressure to build more.

While new rules will be introduced across England, it is at the discretion of local authorities whether or not they wish to use the planning controls.

Karen Walsh, 59, owns The Anchorage Bed and Breakfast in St Ives, Cornwall. Her daughter runs the B&B on her behalf, which Walsh says is the only way she could afford to live in the town.

“All local agencies are struggling to get staff,” she says. “There are young people down there that are really struggling and salaries in St Ives are not high enough, but they love the town so much that they put up with it.”

Author Helen Garlick and her husband Tim Rice - Rii Schroer
Author Helen Garlick and her husband Tim Rice - Rii Schroer

Like Kingston, Walsh has noticed the surge in holiday let ownership. Most of them are cottages, she says, and the rise of rental websites like Airbnb has meant even individual rooms can be let out. Airbnb says it welcomes the Government proposals, adding: “The vast majority of UK Hosts share one home, and almost four in 10 say the earnings help them afford the rising cost of living.”

Local councils have been under pressure from residents to curb the rise of second-home ownership. Last year, residents of Whitby, North Yorkshire, voted to ban new holiday homes after an influx of tourists.

Residents argue second home ownership turns otherwise bustling villages into “ghost towns” in the winter, when tourism levels drop. Author Helen Garlick, 64, lives with her husband Tim Rice, 67, in Mortehoe, north Devon.

She says the tiny village’s population swells from around 100 in winter to over 15,000 in summer, as campsites are set up to accommodate the flood of tourists. Most of the houses near Garlick are holiday lets, she says.

“I didn’t realise the extent of the problem until Hallowe’en when I’d gathered together my usual mix of sweets for the children trick or treating and realised when there were no knocks at the door that of course there are no or very few children here,” she says.

For Garlick, action from local authorities will prevent villages like Mortehoe from becoming “deserts for locals”.

She says: “Our pharmacy has been saved recently, but I do really worry whether we will become the only people around sometimes.”