Sun, Sea and Second Homes… What Are the Ethical Implications of Second Home Ownership for Cornish Locals?

This week’s blog is all about the lovely, idyllic Cornwall. If you have ever had the pleasure of visiting, you will know that the county is a very picturesque gem in the South West. However, not everything to do with tourism in Cornwall is positive. In fact, there are a number of significant ethical issues linked with the tourism industry which have had a profound effect on Cornish people.

I was inspired to write this blog after watching ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’– a BBC programme all about the tourism industry in Cornwall (which I thoroughly recommend, if you have a chance to watch it). It looked, in particular, at how local businesses and local people have had to adapt during the Covid-19 pandemic and how tourism affects local people in general. After watching first-hand how much of a key player tourism is, I decided to look into a couple of key issues which I found to be ethically conflicting for this blog.

Local people’s reactions to second home owners and tourists flocking to Cornwall over the Coronavirus Lockdown period. Image courtesy of The Mirror.

The first of these issues is second home ownership. You may already be aware of the conflict surrounding lockdown and second home owners- notably celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, who fled to their second homes in Cornwall and surrounding areas for the first and second lockdown, which angered locals and went against Government advice. This action could be seen as dangerous to locals, or at the very least self-centred, particularly given that areas like Cornwall have a high retired population and fewer healthcare resources compared to other areas of the country. However, this particular issue only scratches the surface of ethical issues surrounding second home ownership.

After watching an interview with local resident Catrina Davies on the aforementioned tv programme, it highlighted that the rise in popularity of second home ownership had exasperated existing deprivation, and out-priced local people. The increasing lack of affordability, alongside the unreliable nature of seasonal employment and fewer work opportunities, has effectively pushed local people out of their homes. This further presents issues with community-spirit… according to the tv programme, over half of homes in some Cornish villages are second homes, which made me question how would it be possible for community bonds to form if much of the community is empty for the majority of the year? This led me to think of the ethical problems with owning a second home in an area where so many local people want to get on the housing ladder and are unable to- is it really fair or necessary to own a home and use it for a few weeks of the year knowing that others in the community want to be able to afford to live in that same community full-time? I know if I were a resident in Cornwall, I would be very troubled by the idea I could be forced to leave my hometown due to affordability issues when nearly half of the houses are unoccupied for such a large proportion of the year.

Mevagissey village, where up to half of the houses are second homes. Royalty free image.

Strategies have been put into place by Cornwall Council to try and tackle the issues of affordability and second home domination. They have implemented an affordable housing plan, whereby they “do not build affordable homes to house people from outside of Cornwall. All new affordable homes are let or sold to people with proven local connections to Cornwall.” There have also been several attempts by local residents to try and ban second homes from being able to be purchased- particularly in fishing village Mevagissey, where second homes have caused divide in the community (as outlined in this video). However, going by the interviews and statistics shared in the tv programme, it appears more could and should be done to tackle the ethical issues of second home ownership for Cornish locals. After all, no one would want to see Cornwall turned into an expanse of derelict houses which only came alive during the six weeks of the summer, would they?

From a PR perspective, it appears there is a significant barrier forming between local people and tourists- especially second home owners. Whilst I fully empathise with, and feel it is completely wrong that local people are being forced out of their own hometowns and even livelihoods- it also must be considered that revenue generated from both tourists and second home owners, and yes also the influence of celebrities, contributes significantly to Cornwall’s economy. Therefore, from an outside perspective, it appears more could be done in uniting local people and visitors, and likewise more could be done in protecting Cornish citizens from property and employment insecurity. It seems as though large regeneration projects, such as the ground-breaking Eden Project in the heart of the county, are arguably still not attracting large companies and high investment which will ultimately provide job security for locals. Further investment and development into local organisations could act as a niche for operation in Cornwall, which could perhaps shift or diversify Cornwall’s stereotype of being a tourist destination into a unique county with plentiful business, housing and employment opportunities. This may help rebrand Cornwall into a county where locals feel secure and valued all without eroding Cornwall’s magnificent heritage, of course.   

Thank you for reading this blog. It would be great to hear your views on this- how would the ethical implications of second home ownership affect you, if you were a Cornish citizen?

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