Photo by Karen Barrett
Artillery Row

A cynical attack on the British holiday

The government’s new scheme is worse than useless

“Where will you be going on holiday this summer?” can be an insensitive question, especially in these frugal times. Many of us will not be going anywhere as we can’t afford to. Families with young children will be under the greatest financial pressure to forego this item of discretionary expenditure. 

That is a terrible shame. Sliding on seaweed, building sandcastles with buckets and spades, staring in rock pools at crabs, swimming in the bitterly cold sea followed by a restorative cup of tea and a plate of fish and chips — there might be the odd traffic jam or downpour, but that would not make us downhearted with our plucky sense of humour and determination. This is the British inheritance. It is our birthright, the childhood memories to fondly recall in later years. 

The market operating normally would deliver far more new homes

Each generation, more of us have had such opportunities. In the 1970s, getting on a plane for a foreign holiday ceased to be the preserve of the rich. Quite suddenly, it became a viable option for middle England. “Oh, this year I’m off to sunny Spain,” crooned Sylvia Vrethammar in 1974. “Y viva España. I’m taking the costa brava plane. Y viva España.” We all sang along. The cartel-busting entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker made it much more affordable to visit the United States. Whitehall officials attempted to thwart competition to public sector airlines, but Laker won in the courts. 

Yet for millions of families, it was the British seaside that was the imperative summer destination. That remains the case. Just as the property shortage has made the cost of buying or renting a home more expensive, however, it is now also more expensive to take a holiday let in such traditional favourites as Norfolk, Dorset, the Lake District, Devon and Cornwall. 

What is needed is a big increase in supply. It is imperative for new homes to be beautiful — to enhance the traditional surroundings — but there is no reason that could not be achieved. With that proviso, the planning restrictions holding back development should be eased. A central target would no longer apply, but it is likely that the market operating normally would deliver far more than the 300,000 new homes a year than the Government has been promising (and failing) to deliver. Then it could be cheaper to rent, cheaper to buy and cheaper to go on holiday. 

Instead, the Government plays divide and rule. “We want more of the new homes that are built to be for people to live in,” says Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in a letter to The Times

People do live when they are on holiday. Some feel most alive when escaping the pressure and routine of school or the office and the daily commute. Why should the Big State be seeking to deny us that respite? 

The trade-off that we are expected to accept is that choking off the supply of holiday homes will ease the pressure on the availability of homes to rent or buy. Leave aside that this cunningly diverts blame from the Government for constraining supply. I believe the proposals would not even achieve their stated goal.

A family might miss out on a glorious British holiday

As so often when the regulatory burden is increased, it is the small guy who is squeezed out. We learn that the Government is proposing a “mandatory registration scheme for holiday lets”. Also, in future, those wishing to use their property as a holiday let should be required to obtain planning permission. 

The Government itself says that “on average, hosts earned £5,000-£6,000 a year” from offering short-term lets. That indicates that these are families who live most of the year in Norfolk, Dorset, the Lake District, Devon and Cornwall. That’s where their home is and where they work. During August some of them make the canny decision to scarper. They make a fortune out of letting out their home on Airbnb or some other agency. Rather than leaving their home empty whilst they are on holiday, they allow someone else to stay in it. 

Some years ago I stayed with my family for a week in Studland, a seaside village in Dorset. It was less fashionable than it is now, but it still cost a fortune. We had a wonderful time, with many different beaches to choose from (we avoided the one for nudists). One day we climbed Old Harry Rocks. On another day we took the open-top bus into Swanage and then took the steam train to Corfe Castle. At the house we stayed at, the family locked all their private clobber into one room and left the rest of their house to us. 

I wonder if such people would bother if they had to pay the Council a registration fee. Perhaps they might decide that it is worth it and apply for planning permission for a new “class of use” as a short-term let, but the Council might turn them down. 

What would this achieve? They might still go on holiday and leave their house empty. They might have a shorter holiday or none at all. They would still live there. So, it wouldn’t lower costs for others in Dorset seeking to rent or buy. It would cut the availability of places to stay on holiday in the peak season and thus hit the tourist industry. Then a family might miss out on a glorious British holiday.

Well done, Michael Gove.

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