This weeks column for the Farmers’ Union of Wales is written by Sharon Pritchard, county executive officer.
The impacts associated with the rise in second home ownership Wales has experienced over recent years have increasingly become a serious concern for the FUW, given the difficulties created for members of farming families and farm workers wishing to buy or rent homes in their local communities.
As highlighted in each of the four FUW responses to recent Welsh Government consultations on proposals to tackle the impacts of second homes and short-term holiday lets, the data available demonstrates how second home ownership is more prominent in certain parts of Wales and therefore it portrays the view that it shouldn’t be considered as a pan-Wales issue.
However, given that around 80 per cent of the total agricultural land in Wales is situated in the seven counties which contain two-thirds of all second homes, we strongly believe that it should in fact be considered as a pan-Wales issue for the agricultural community.
The Welsh Government has recently announced its decision to increase the number of days a property is actually let for from 70 to 182 days during any 12 month period to be eligible for business rates, despite a significant proportion of respondents to the consultation having proposed 105 days, and the FUW suggesting doubling the criteria to 140 days.
In Welsh Minister for Finance and Local Government Rebecca Evans MS’ written statement on May 24 2022, we were pleased to note that the Welsh Government is exploring amendments to the Council Tax (Exceptions to Higher Amounts) (Wales) Regulations 2015 to provide an exception for self-catering properties that may be unable to meet the revised letting criteria due to planning conditions.
In a recent letter to the Minister, we expressed our members’ strong belief that the implications for diversified farm businesses have not been fully considered while making the decision to increase the letting criteria to 182 days, and that care needs to be taken to avoid unforeseen circumstances for genuine business owners and farmers who have diversified into self-catered accommodation.
It should be remembered that the Welsh Government has encouraged farmers to diversify over recent years to make farm businesses more resilient in light of future changes to agricultural support policies, and that in what is believed to be the vast majority of cases, the conversion of farm buildings into dwellings has only been possible for self-catered accommodation purposes under Section 106 conditions.
It is clearly understood from FUW members that for many diversified farm businesses, actually letting self-catered accommodation units for at least 182 days per year will be practically impossible given the nature of farming - which generates the largest proportion of income for such businesses - and the sheer competitiveness of the holiday let market.
In light of the above and given that farmers who have genuinely diversified into on-farm accommodation provide the same type of accommodation as speculators from urban areas who invest in properties to let them out, and people wanting a second home who subsidise payments by letting it out as an AirBnB or something similar without reducing Welsh housing stocks or causing house prices to rise, such businesses must be supported in light of current and future challenges rather than being burdened with further barriers and stricter thresholds. Therefore, now that the Welsh Government has decided to increase the letting criteria to 182 days, we stressed the need for self-catering accommodation units which are located on agricultural holdings or subject to Section 106 conditions to be exempt from such changes.
We urge the Minister for Finance and Local Government to seriously consider the above as the Welsh Government keeps measures to address the impacts associated with second homes and short-term holiday lets under review and seeks to avoid any unintended consequences.