A loophole which allows homeless people to stay in holiday accommodation risks creating a “ghost town” in one tourist hotspot, businesses have said.
Emergency legislation, introduced by the Welsh Government during the coronavirus pandemic, means hotels, guest houses and B&Bs can currently be “repurposed” to house homeless people.
But in Llandudno the town’s Hospitality Association has criticised Conwy Council for recently putting homeless people in a property in the town that had been a guest house.
The group has warned it could start a trend towards a decline in holiday accommodation and lead to the economic and social problems seen in other holiday resorts like Rhyl and Colwyn Bay in recent decades, NorthWalesLive reports.
But the council’s leader maintains that the permitted development has actually worked to eradicate street homelessness in the town.
Aberconwy MS Janet Finch-Saunders has asked the Welsh Government to close the emergency legislation loophole while the Llandudno Hospitality Association has asked the council to stop using holiday accommodation for this purpose. Meanwhile, North Wales Tourism leader Jim Jones warned they did not want Llandudno ending up as a “ghost town” with the key economic sector damaged.
The popular Welsh resort town has a Holiday Accommodation Zone which usually prevents hotels, guest houses and B&Bs being changed from tourism use. But the new legislation, introduced at the height of the pandemic, bypasses this.
While Welsh Government minister Julie James maintains the permitted development rights have eased considerable pressure on local authorities, she said it was ultimately up to councils to decide the balance between the interests of stakeholders.
Conwy council’s leader Charlie McCoubrey, replied to the LHA saying homelessness was a highly “detrimental and seemingly intractable problem in Llandudno” and because of council actions there was no longer any street homeless individuals in Conwy. He added that he understood the “need to protect and sustain the vitality and uniqueness of Llandudno as a key driver of our economy”.
The property at the centre of the controversy had not been used as a guest house since being taken over by the current owner and wasn’t in use when they took out the temporary lease, he added.
In a letter to the council leader, Berin Jones, chairman of the LHA, said: “There is a whole raft of evidence from across the UK that demonstrates that the using of holiday accommodation for the homing of those in need of support; especially those who are homeless or vulnerable; results in a significant and lasting decline to the economy of the resort, which becomes impossible to recover despite millions of pounds of public money being pumped in to the areas to try and raise the tourism economy once again.
“In essence, once the golden goose is shot, it will never return to life. This can be one shot pellet or it can be a barrage of shotgun shells, but ultimately, the economy is irretrievable once it has happened.”
The shortage of homes in Welsh holiday hotspots has been a hot topic lately, with the beautiful village of Cwm-yr-Eglwys unwittingly becoming the centre of Wales’ second home debate this summer.
The association had not opposed using holiday accommodation for this purpose during the peak of the pandemic but does have questions over the longer term plan for people requiring support. Mr Jones pleaded with the council to “not attempting to contract with hoteliers within the Holiday Accommodation Zone for the locating of those who require the support of the local authority, whatever the legislation permits”.
Aberconwy MS Janet Finch-Saunders said: “Whilst I appreciate the exceptional circumstances which brought about the legislative change which enables hotels to change use to temporary accommodation without applying for permission, and that there is considerable demand for emergency housing, it is wrong that holiday accommodation in the heart of the sector is being lost despite the clear protection included in the Local Development Plan.
“The tourism sector is booming in Llandudno. The demand goes to prove that our local planning policy is right to protect the Holiday Accommodation Zone, and that the Welsh Government is now wrong to continue to allow its legislation to undermine it.
“Circumstances have changed. The law should now change.”
While Jim Jones, the chief executive of North Wales Tourism, said: “Llandudno is one of the top holiday destinations in Wales and has been rightly crowned as the Queen of Welsh resorts. One of the many reasons people go there is the quality of the plentiful supply of bed stock available for the visitor, not just to stay in the town but also to use as a base to explore the rest of North Wales.
“In order to retain this status and popularity of the resort it’s imperative that the holiday accommodation zones are protected. There is a reason that county councils spend so much time developing Local Development Plans and putting policies to ensure we have the right infrastructure in place to meet our future needs.
“Having enough beds to accommodate visitors is one of the key building blocks that we need to make sure the tourism and hospitality industry can thrive and play its part in securing a prosperous future for the region.
“Let’s hope the measures by Welsh Government are temporary, otherwise we will witness Llandudno ending up – as has been the case with many other tourism resorts – as a ghost town. We cannot and should not let this happen.”
In a letter to the LHA, Cllr McCoubrey said: “Having worked in Rhyl for 25 years and witnessed its decline I totally understand and support your concerns however I do not think that your email is entirely fair. There is no escaping the fact that during this pandemic we have had a 300% increase in the number of households in emergency accommodation.
“Of these 50% require housing within Llandudno. I am very proud to say that we no longer have any street homeless individuals in Conwy. This was a highly detrimental and seemingly intractable problem in Llandudno in particular.
“Our officers are well aware of the anger this proposal would cause and I am confident that they will have explored all other avenues before bringing forward this proposal.
“As leader and formally cabinet member for housing I take full responsibility for this situation. I totally understand the need to protect and sustain the vitality and uniqueness of Llandudno as a key driver of our economy.”
Conwy council said: “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Welsh Government and Local Authorities have taken unprecedented steps to support people experiencing homelessness to ensure they have been able to access accommodation together with the support they need. Across Wales over 10,000 people, including families with children, have been brought into accommodation since March 2020.
“The past 18 months has been a very difficult time for many families. Conwy Housing Services currently has over 500 people in need of accommodation, many of them from Llandudno, and we have a statutory duty to ensure we can place any homeless household into temporary accommodation.
“We have been encouraged to source accommodation to ensure we can meet the inclusive policy of ‘no-one left out’ and this property was one such option and the funding is from Welsh Government. Prior to taking on the lease, this property had not been used as a B&B or hotel since the current owner bought it.
“We therefore have not removed a property from holiday accommodation, as it was not being used as such. We are leasing the property for a short period (from July 2021) to use as temporary accommodation to help us meet the high demand for placements and people in housing need in Conwy.”