Villagers swamped by second homes cheer vandalsLocals feeling isolated by well-heeled influx applaud outbreak of hostile graffiti
Peter Walker The Guardian, Saturday 21 March 2009 Article historyJill Thompson is 71, a churchgoing pillar of her community and not the sort to condone vandalism. But she makes an exception for the still unidentified locals who daubed graffiti condemning second home owners and other incomers on a nearby estate of expensive new houses.
"I don't really make a habit of encouraging criminality," she said on the doorstep of her terrace house in Worth Matravers, one of perhaps 40% of properties in the pretty Dorset village to be occupied all year round. "But if I'd known it was happening I'd have given them the paint."
"And made a cup of tea for them afterwards," added her next-door neighbour, Jan Dart, 55.
This uncommon sympathy for lawbreaking is a symptom of what remains a pressing problem in many rural areas, and one not alleviated by the economic downturn: the crushing lack of affordable housing for local people. A combination of London-style prices in areas with very un-London incomes is slowly killing hundreds of villages, rural campaigners warn.
In the next few weeks, ministers will respond to a report by Matthew Taylor, the MP for Truro and St Austell in Cornwall, who has recommended measures including local trials in which planning permission would be needed to turn residences into holiday homes.
A week ago slogans including "No More 2nd Homes" and "Go Away" appeared overnight on the walls and driveways of the development of four new houses near the centre of Worth Matravers, a village of about 170 properties occupying a glorious spot on hills overlooking the extended inlet that forms Poole harbour. At around £450,000 each, the smart new homes, built from grey-brown Purbeck stone, are aimed at second home purchasers or comfortable retirees from elsewhere, rather than locals in an area where most jobs come from farming, quarrying or tourism. This development attracted extra local ire as it occupies the site of a former craft centre and cafe.
Thomson remembers when the village also had two shops and a post office. These closed, leaving just a pub. "When I walk to the church at 6pm on a winter evening there's hardly a light on in any house. It feels very lonely and not very safe at all," she said. In her experience, few second home owners integrate into local life. "They come down from London, spend two weeks telling us what to do and complaining about the mobile phone signal and then they go home again."
A few minutes away is the duck pond and well-tended green. A 20-year-old local woman, who asked not to be named, was cutting the grass for a local gardening firm. At the end of the day she would return to a caravan, her home for the past three years. "Doing a job like this, it's all I can afford. I couldn't pay the rent on a flat," she said.
According to data collected by the Commissioner for Rural Communities, just over 7% of housing in Purbeck is made up of second homes, among the highest proportions in the country. Mark Sturgess, head of planning for Purbeck council, believes that the real figure is closer to 10%, while in places such as Worth Matravers it could be six times that.
"A lot of places have reached a sort of critical mass, after which local businesses like pubs, post offices and shops can't survive," he said.
Taylor, who delivered his report last July, said affordable housing was "a big issue in the postbag" for MPs in constituencies like his. "There is a general issue about the viability of small communities. With the numbers left living permanently you can't support schools, shops, year-round transport or even year-round pubs."
While Taylor expects the government to back "a great deal" of his report, it has already warned it will not support new planning laws for second homes.
Back in Worth Matravers there is a picturesque terrace cul-de-sac of former workers' cottages, almost all bought and tastefully renovated by holiday owners. To the amusement of some locals the street's name is London Row. One part-time occupier, Roger - whose main home is Sussex - said his ilk got "a pretty bad press at times".
He added: "It's not as if these places were thriving before we arrived. Some of the villages used to be pretty run down, and they've done well from second home owners and holiday rentals."
Roger insists he does take a full part in local life: "I've just got back from being in the pub with my neighbours. I think the people are friendly enough. But then I'm a good mixer in general."
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