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New research: a huge rise in holiday lets is strangling rural communities

13th January 2022

New findings in a CPRE research report show a 1000% increase in short-term lets nationally in 2015-21, with most in rural staycation hotspots – all while 176,000 families wait on social housing lists.

Our analysis of data on properties on Airbnb and similar sites shows that a massive 148,000 homes that could have otherwise – or in some cases, previously were – used as homes by local families are instead being put up on short-term and holiday lets.

And this massive jump in holiday lets, taking local homes off the market for young families and others, is set against the backdrop of the steep decline in the completion of much-needed new social housing projects since 2013.

Holiday honeypots

Our data shows startling figures in locations such as Cornwall, Devon, South Lakeland and Northumberland, and is often combined with social housing waiting lists that are lengthening year on year.

In fact, in many of these rural areas these waiting lists could be drastically reduced or even eliminated if the number of properties advertised for short term let were available for local families.

'South Lakeland saw a 1,231% increase in short term listings between 2016-20.'

Instead, the analysis shows that in South Lakeland, for example, which saw a 1,231% increase in short term listings between 2016-20, roughly half the families in need of social housing could be accommodated in properties exclusively available for holiday rentals.

And in Cornwall, which saw short term listings grow 661% in the five years to September 2021, there are roughly 15,000 families on social housing waiting lists and the same number of properties being marketed as holiday let.

This is why we at CPRE want to see changes made to protect the housing needed by people in rural areas and to curb the runaway spread of shifting to pricey short-term lets.

'Our rural housing supply is disappearing.'
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive

As our chief executive, Crispin Truman, says:

‘There simply has to be a government response to the fact that our rural housing supply is disappearing into an unregulated short-term rentals market that simply didn’t exist six years ago.’

‘A problem that’s quickly getting out of hand’

We’re calling for tighter controls on second home ownership, including higher council tax on second homes and the requirement for short term lets to have planning permission.

Additionally, the definition of ‘affordable’ must be changed in national planning policy, with rents being tied to local incomes rather than market prices.

And time is of the essence. As Crispin puts it:

‘It’s clear the government needs to act fast to avert a growing housing crisis. With the cost of living set to hammer people’s finances in the coming year, this is a problem that’s quickly getting out of hand.’

We’re frustrated at rural people being left behind and need action soon. We want to see the government’s forthcoming Planning Bill seize the opportunity to level-up housing and make changes to law and policy to require at least one new genuinely affordable home for every market home built.

'Homes that used to be rented to local families sit empty for much of the year.'
Crispin Truman

Crispin summarises the risk of leaving the rural housing crisis, worsened through short-term lets, unaddressed:

‘Across our most traditional rural communities, from the beaches of Cornwall to the lakes of Cumbria, homes that used to be rented to local families sit empty for much of the year. Hard-working people are suffering and they will not easily forgive a government that promised to level them up if it leaves them falling through the cracks of a broken system.’

Help us to more housing successes

We’ve already had considerable success in putting pressure on the government to make changes to its original plans for the rules that govern new housing, ensuring better outcomes for rural areas and communities.

Noticed the impact of a rise in short-term lets near you and want to ensure local people don’t get left behind? Becoming a CPRE member from as little as £5 a month, or giving a regular or one-off donation, will help us to keep challenging the government and pushing for better social housing provision. Thank you for your support.

A bright blue sea flowing into a narrow harbour with pretty cottages all around
A harbour in scenic Helston, Cornwall - an area with huge numbers of short-term let properties Darren Welsh / Unsplash