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Author is deluded if he thinks second homes are good for us

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: June 23, 2012

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I imagine the novelist A N Wilson is quite a nice sort of chap. I think if I met him we'd get on pretty well and if we struck up a conversation at the bar of the Golden Lion in Port Isaac, I reckon he'd stand me a pint or two. After all, he can afford to. The price of a pint isn't an issue to Mr Wilson – which is not the case those who suffer the effects of his selfishness.

This week, the acclaimed columnist and biographer announced that he was selling his seven-bedroomed retreat on the north coast of Cornwall. He said he had "agonised" about buying a second home in Cornwall in the first place for fear of being branded a wealthy absentee "invader". However, he overcame this barrier and managed to salve his conscience by convincing himself the "invader" had metamorphosed into a valued and "integrated" member of the community.

As I say, Mr Wilson is probably a nice chap, affable, entertaining and with pockets jangling with pennies to help local causes. Why would anyone say anything untoward about him? Except, perhaps, behind his back.

Expensively educated at Rugby School and New College, Oxford, A N Wilson is, without question, a very clever man. He has some 40 books to his name on subjects ranging from Jesus to John Betjeman, Hitler to Hilaire Belloc. His 1999 tome, God's Funeral: The Decline Of Faith In Western Civilisation, is quite brilliant.

So it comes as something of a surprise to learn of his opinions on the state of Cornwall's economy. Mr Wilson is clearly unable to plead ignorance as a defence and yet, when speaking about Cornwall, his ignorance shines as brightly as a Caroline Quentin documentary. Parroting the platitudes of those who choose to regard Cornwall as a rich man's playground, rather than a land steeped in innovation and rich in culture, he pronounced: "Cornwall is one of the poorest parts of the country and its tin mining, china clay quarrying, fishing and agriculture have either been extinguished or squeezed by the world economic situation."

I'll take each misconception in turn. Cornwall is not "one of the poorest parts of the country", it is the poorest part of the country. In terms of GDP, unaffordable housing, low wages, unemployment and a range of other social issues, Cornwall suffers like no other. However, Mr Wilson's assertion that mining, quarrying, fishing and farming have been "extinguished" is simply mistaken. South Crofty is heading for revival, Imerys, De Lank, Lantoon, Delabole and others are thriving stone industries, Newlyn and other ports are enjoying a period of growth, while farming is at least OK.

He goes on: "However unfair it is that some people can afford holiday homes while young locals find it impossible to get started on the property ladder, Cornwall would die without second homes."

Thanks for that, Andrew (that's what the A stands for – not what you were thinking), but the last thing any struggling community needs is to be patronised and treated like a basket case by those who have, by their greed, been the architects of many of its ills. By purchasing a property in a village, holidaying there a couple of times a year, and thereby transforming that village into a playground of the rich, these leeches suck the heart out of communities. Their actions do not, as A N Wilson deludes himself, rescue them. "Community" is effectively swept away.

These lovely people, with their generous nature, only see Port Isaac, Mousehole, Helford and a dozen other pretty locations in the summer months or at Christmas. They don't realise that before they came along and inflated the prices of once-affordable properties, these were bustling communities all year round.

While we're at it, let's lay to rest the myth that these are second "homes". The expression is a misnomer. A home is where you live, not a place you visit a couple of times a year.

A N Wilson can bleat all he likes about having "agonised" over buying a property for part-time occupancy in Port Isaac, but it just doesn't wash. In doing so, the actions of a rich few have directly contributed to the tripling of house prices in Cornwall since 1990.

Latest figures show that every community in Cornwall now has at least one second home, while in a handful of places the ratio is a staggering 54 per cent. The departure of Mr Wilson from Port Isaac won't make much of dent in those figures, but who knows, it could represent a sea-change.

So, Mr Wilson, Cornwall bids you and your kind a friendly farewell. By all means come and visit us again, share our pleasures, and you will be warmly welcomed. All we ask is that next time you visit, be content with your one home and resist the urge to buy up all of ours.

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  • cweatherhill  |  October 25 2012, 5:17PM

    If Mr Wilson lived in a community being destroyed by second-home ownership, perhaps he'd think differently. I live in a tiny village in West Cornwall, which, although small, used to thrive. We had a shop, a school, a post office and a pub. Now we have none of those (although the pub might reopen soon), because there are no longer enough permanently occupied households to support them. And this is an inland village, not a Port Isaac or a Mousehole. At this end of the village, mine is one of a group of 8 houses. There are permanent residents in just 2 of those, including mine. The shameful incident at Helford, when the 2nd home owners banded together to get the High Court to overturn a planning approval for the local fishermen to build a quay to land their fish, was disgraceful enough. I'm surprised that the Welsh solution wasn't applied. One of our 2nd home owners fairly recently ran around waving a 1:2500 plan demanding that his (permanent) neighbours move their fences over 6 inches (to his advantage, of course). He was told, in no uncertain terms, that, while we continue to subsidise his Council Tax, we'll dictate to him, not the other way round; and that if he continued to make trouble, we'd make damned sure that squatters were in next time he came down. There's never any trouble in this village - in fact, there's a great community spirit here.....until that Essex moron inflicts himself upon us.

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