1980s >> 1980 >> no-909-may-1980

An Englishman’s home

Imagine a village perched high in the Welsh mountains, so picturesque that it becomes a favoured spot for weekends “away from it all”. More and more of its houses are bought up by people who only spend occasional weekends there, or who let the house to holidaymakers during the summer and leave it empty for the rest of the year. As the number of permanent residents drops, the village shop finds there is insufficient custom to keep going and closes down, the local telephone box is removed, and bus services may be withdrawn altogether. The village ceases to function as a community.

It is such considerations that lie behind the spate of arson attacks, now numbering over thirty, on English-owned holiday homes in Wales since December last year. Besides helping to depopulate the countryside (a process which is taking place anyway), the demand for holiday homes increases house prices so that they are beyond the reach of many local people. The county of Gwynedd has more second homes than it has people on its council house waiting lists.

And then there are the nationalist factors also; the claim that the influx of holidaymakers and weekend residents from England dilutes the supposedly Celtic character of north and west Wales and pushes the Welsh language further into oblivion. The nationalist argument (which in truth is sometimes a purely racist one) is however misplaced. The same kind of rural depopulation and distintegration of communities is taking place in the Lake District. And it makes no odds whether the owner of the second home lives in London or in Cardiff.

The existence of normally empty second homes alongside homeless people is a graphic illustration of the contradictions of a society which breeds palaces and hovels, kings and paupers. It is capitalism which is responsible for the social and physical devastation of the countryside in Wales as elsewhere. Any solution will involve fighting the causes of the decay not just its symptoms, and so will have to be a global not a purely national one.

Paul Bennett