St Ives: Paradise or second-homes hell?

St Ives: Paradise or second-homes hell?

In 2016, residents in St Ives voted to take action against the scourge of second home ownership. By inserting a “principal residence” condition into the sale of new-build properties, a mechanism known as Policy H2, the St Ives Area Neighbourhood Development Plan hoped to curb the influx of investment buyers, while providing better and more sustainable housing prospects for locals.

Residents of Whitby in Yorkshire recently voted in favour of similar action. But the people of St Ives have a warning for them: such action may not be “bold enough”.

Morag Robertson, chair of St Ives Community Land Trust, says: “The policy was designed to temper the feverishness at the edges of the market and to ensure open land was used for housing for local people, not for speculative investments or holiday lets. We think that’s been a success, but we should’ve gone further.

“The town has been sucked out by holiday lets in the last couple of years because H2 doesn’t stop existing properties from being turned into holiday lets. We’ve also faced issues such as no-fault evictions [long-term renters have been forced to leave their properties at short notice when the owners turn their properties into holiday lets]. Maybe we should have tackled the existing market head on. Maybe we weren’t bold enough.”

The average sale price of a home in the heart of St Ives has risen from £336,153 in 2016 to £556,493 this year. Local estate agents attribute some of that increase to heightened demand throughout the south-west since the Covid pandemic, but lifelong resident Vaughan Bennett feels “the horse had already bolted”.

“You won’t hear a St Ives voice here anywhere, it’s now a glorified holiday camp,” he says. “I’m Cornish born and bred; a big chunk of my heritage has gone. I don’t feel good about that.”

Bennett collects waste on behalf of holiday companies in St Ives and feels “conflicted” about being part of such a ravenous tourism industry. “I don’t know what anyone can do about St Ives,” he adds. “Perhaps restrictions will work elsewhere, but not this end.”

Cath Navin, co-founder of campaign group First Not Second Homes, welcomed the news of Whitby’s referendum.

“Amnesty International recently said housing needs to be enshrined in human rights – I agree, it does,” she says. “The way things are now, we’ve lost our moral compass.

“The fact that you’ve got queues of people stepping up for a referendum to change things in Whitby is really important. There are many more honeypot areas like this, and I think more places will follow suit.”

Even the tourists themselves are sympathetic. Paul Thomas and his family live in Upton St Leonards, near the Cotswolds, and say their community has been eroded by second-home owners.

“Houses in our village get bought up by people from London who then lease them out,” Thomas says. “You have to find the right balance between tourism and residential, because tourism does fund these areas.”

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