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Alarm over sharp rise in Airbnb listings in coastal areas of England and Wales

A sharp rise in the number of Airbnb listings in coastal areas of England and Wales has prompted fears that some seaside areas will become “theme parks for the wealthy”.

The number of “entire places” for rent in coastal spots in England and Wales increased by 56% between 2019 and 2022, compared with 15% in non-coastal areas, according to analysis.

The rise means coastal areas now have three times the rate of Airbnb listings per dwelling than in non-coastal areas, up from twice the rate pre-pandemic.

Housing campaigners say the trend indicates that landlords in popular seaside towns and quiet coastal getaways may be favouring tourists over tenants at a time when many such communities are being hit by rising living costs, mortgage and house prices.

“Tourists don’t want to visit ghost towns. And most people can’t afford to live in a theme park designed for wealthier visitors,” said Will McMahon, the director of the charity Action on Empty Homes, who coordinated the Action on Short Lets campaign.

He added that the current situation “ultimately kills the very communities that were once considered to be part of the attraction to visitors”.

The analysis, which calculates the number of Airbnb listings advertised as an “entire place” for rent – as opposed to a room in a house or a shared room – as a rate of local housing stock in statistical reporting regions known as middle-layer super output areas, found that in May 2019, one in every 105 dwellings in coastal areas in England and Wales were advertised as an Airbnb.

In May 2022 it was one in every 67 coastal dwellings, while in inland locations it was one in every 196 properties, according to Inside Airbnb, a non-commercial project that aims to highlight the impact of the service on residential housing markets.

Data also showed that some seaside locations had a far greater proportion of Airbnb listings.

One in four houses and flats in Woolacombe, Georgeham & Croyde in north Devon were listed on Airbnb in May this year, up from one in six in 2019, as were homes in the Scores, overlooking the sea in St Andrews, Scotland. And one in five dwellings in St Ives & Halsetown in Cornwall were listed while one in six properties in the Cornish town of Newquay and Whitby in North Yorkshire were advertised on the site.

Dan Wilson Craw, the deputy director of Generation Rent, said one of the driving forces behind the rise in Airbnb listings was a lack of tax and regulation for holiday lets.

“In the past seven years, the government has withdrawn mortgage interest tax relief from residential landlords but left the holiday let sector untouched. That has encouraged landlords in holiday hotspots to switch their properties from tenants to tourists. As a result there are fewer listings on the rental market and rents have soared, pushing people out of the towns and villages they grew up in.”

The rate of Airbnb listings in coastal areas across Great Britain grew by 40% in the three-year period compared with 17% in inland locations. Of the 50 areas with the highest proportion of Airbnb listings per dwelling, two-thirds were in coastal areas although coastal locations make up just one quarter of the small areas covered by the analysis.

The analysis looked only at Airbnb listings advertised as an “entire place” for rent, as opposed to a room in a house or a shared room, and did not distinguish between properties let out full-time, and included caravans, pods and manor houses, which make up a fraction of listings.

Airbnb questioned the accuracy of the findings, emphasising that unusual listings such as caravans or large manor houses, used for events, may not affect the local housing stock.

A spokesperson said: “The pandemic changed the way we travel and moved demand from densely populated cities to coastal and countryside communities, which created new economic opportunities for local families to boost their income by occasionally renting their home.

“The typical UK host rents their own home for just a couple of nights a month to boost their income, and over a third say the additional income helps them afford rising living costs. Airbnb welcomes new rules and we proposed a host register to the UK government, and we continue to support its consultation on the matter.”

McMahon pointed to potential solutions in other countries: “In Scotland councils are empowered to limit short lets, in Wales new powers are coming in to make short lets and second homes separate planning classes from homes in normal residential use.

“It is time we ensured a decent supply of affordable housing for local people is maintained and that means ensuring that all the local housing isn’t snapped up by investors with deeper pockets who then just rent it on Airbnb for huge profits.”

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