“Drastic measures” are needed to tackle the housing crisis in places like Tenby that have seen the number of pupils at the seaside town’s secondary school - Ysgol Greenhill drop by 400, councillors have heard.
Members of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Policy and Pre-decision Overview and Scrutiny Committee were due to discuss a recent council consultation on possible changes in council tax premiums for second homes and empty properties at their meeting of September 19.
Pembrokeshire currently charges a 100 per cent premium, but Welsh Government changes allow up to a 300 per cent rate.
The matter had been expected to be discussed at full council next month, but at the outset of the agenda item, councillors were told that, following a recent members’ budget seminar, the decision had been taken to delay the item to the December meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance, Councillor Alec Cormack said the extra time before any decision was made “makes sense”.
He said there was “a great deal of sympathy” with views the Welsh Government increase in the number of days holiday lets needed to be let – from 70 to 182 – was “a very huge jump”.
“The council has a discretionary power to possibly lower that threshold; however, we would take the responsibility policing that scheme and defending it from any questions from residents.
“I do remain to be convinced it is the responsibility of Pembrokeshire to correct what I see as a Welsh Government problem.”
He told members there was a huge increase in the number of homeless people in the county: “Homelessness has risen 800 per cent since 2015, there are 677 people in temporary accommodation, the addition cost of that increase for ’23-’24 is likely to be £900,000.”
He said there was “a great deal of caution” about any changes in the second homes council tax premium, but there was a greater general agreement on tightening the rules on empty properties, of which there are currently 531 in Pembrokeshire.
Councillor Aled Thomas said: “We do need to do something quite dramatically; the solution would be to build more housing,” criticising the current administration’s record on house building.
He added: “Homelessness is, of course, a big thing. But despite asking I can’t get any data that it is Pembrokeshire people that are homeless; you could get on a bus to Pembrokeshire and declare yourself homeless and we must house you. How many of our own are homeless?
“I don’t agree with raising council tax any more than it is, both for single-use and for second homes, but there are things we can do on the issue of homelessness.”
Cllr Thomas suggested the issue of homelessness in the county could be eased through more relaxed planning policies and through allowing more caravans and chalets, reducing holidaymaker pressure on the housing stock locally.
Tenby county councillor for the north ward, Cllr Michael Williams commented: “I can understand Aled’s concerns about the influx of people into our communities, but I don’t see that in Tenby. I see a place where people who are local are unable to get houses; the situation is utterly dire.”
Cllr Williams, who has been a proponent of the second homes tax premium since it was first introduced in Pembrokeshire, added: “The 800 per cent increase in homelessness is absolutely frightening; in the street I’m in 80 per cent are second homes. While the second homes [premium] is a blunt instrument it is beginning to have success, houses are being sold.”
He said two-bedroomed terraced houses in the town, being sold for £400,000, were being “gobbled up as a second home,” adding: “we’ve got to do something.
“Ysgol Greenhill had 1,300 pupils 10 years ago, that’s dropped by 400, simply because people don’t live here any more, the youngsters can’t get houses here; I think we’re in a dire straight we’ve really got to take drastic measures to support our communities and our young people.
“I never thought in Tenby we would see a hotel now being used as a homeless hostel, and I never thought I would see two food banks in Tenby, something has got to be done.
“182 days is reasonable; I think it has caused some problems, but not insurmountable problems.”
Pembrokeshire County Council will decide whether to increase council tax premiums in the financial year 2024/25 for second homes and long-term empty homes, at its full Council meeting on December 14.