For all the talk of Wales being overlooked, or even subconsciously bullied by our larger neighbour, you may be surprised that to many English people, Wales does matter. In its own unique way, of course.

So much that our future as part of the United Kingdom is of greater significance to some of the English ruling classes than suppressing the already restless Celtic hostages north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Let me give you my personal experience. At Oxford, I was bemused that so many of the privileged few were Cymrophiles in disguise (again, expressed with their own quirky demeanour).

“The Scots may be great thinkers – no offence, mate – but Wales is SO beautiful: rolling hills, glittering lakes, not to mention your fantastic culture!”

The subsequent reaction to the bait of a possible independent Wales rallied similar amateur dramatics. “Gosh… That would be terrible… And how would you pay for it?” A good question; not one for now, though.

In the midst of the second home crisis – more of that in a moment – these memories of how the English perceive and treat Wales have been reignited.

A brilliant paper produced by Cardiff University’s Dr Huw Williams posits that it is not necessarily because the Welsh cling on to a notion of Britishness that justifies the current union for so many; instead, perhaps, there is a form of dependency on England’s part; it is they, in short, who have most to lose from a constitutional break-up.

Dr.Williams rightly says that plenty across the border see Wales as an “English region, a Principality at best – a pretty enough, even exotic addendum that is a place upon which all sorts of projects and ideals can be projected: a place for seaside holidays, a destination for the good life, a holiday playground, wasted land to re-wild, and now in some parts an escape from Covid – and so on.”

It is this notion of Wales as a playground, a rustic Jurassic adventure park on a grand, mythical scale, evoking images of Britain millennia gone by, among other salient points Dr Williams makes, that is of relevance to us.

After all, although we may be perceived “somewhat insignificant, economically redundant, or a bit uppity about the old lingo”, Dr Williams adds, the reality is that we are part of England in the eyes of many of its countrymen.

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And this week has done nothing to suggest otherwise. Signs have popped up across Wales. From Cwm-yr-Eglwys in Pembrokeshire to Pistyll in Gwynedd, they all read: For Sale.

What a steal from the locals! You can now get your own little bwthyn at a discount price, perhaps for as little as £1m. Well, actually, it could be cheaper: one “stunning cottage” in a “remote rural location” in Snowdonia is on the market for £850,000. 

So you poor sods can continue to shout that ‘Wales is not for sale!’. But it is. Housing is being dished out like livestock, ready to be packaged up by estate agents and sold to the hungriest and highest bidder.

The campaigners of Hawl i Fyw Adra say they have the right to live at home – of course they do! – yet the housing market doesn’t care about rights, so their cries are as silent as the Welsh-language is, in growing numbers of villages and towns, rapidly succumbing to the tsunami of two-week-a-year-locals.

The Welsh Government knows there is a problem – it even a commissioned a report about it. Swansea University’s 81-page findings, published in March by Dr Simon Brooks, estimates that 40 per cent of housing in some communities across Wales are designated as second homes.

Holiday lets may not be a pan-Wales issue, but it is a national crisis: one borne from uncontrolled regulation of the housing market, shameful neglect of rural communities, and a callous abandonment of responsibility by reluctant Cymrophobic politicians.

Indeed, it is the latter point that is most concerning. Welsh Labour has for so long been comfortable in wearing Plaid Cymru’s clothes across several policy areas, but curiously not this one.

They have been non-interventionists for years, perhaps because they feared upsetting many of the Tafia who themselves enjoy a summer getaway to ‘Abersock’. Meanwhile, the housing market, has continued to spiral out of control: Anglesey, for instance, has seen a 16 per cent rise in prices over the last year. Wages are stagnant.

Mark Drakeford insists there is no “single bullet” solution and, in this regard, he is correct. There are, however, 12 rounds of ammunition ready to fire from Dr Brooks’s report. A dozen recommendations encompassing taxation and planning policy.

One recommendation is urging local authorities to raise the tax premium on second homes to 100 per cent, like the county council has done in under-siege Gwynedd.

Another recommendation is for the Welsh Government to consult on exempting short-term holiday accommodation from being eligible for small business rates relief.

Dr.Brooks also says a trial establishing in planning law a new use class for second homes would be useful, as would be making the conversion of a dwelling house into short-term holiday accommodation subject to planning permission.

Plans for solving this crisis will come soon, according to the first minister. Welsh Labour has already said it will build 20,000 new, low carbon social homes. Good, but the issue is beyond supply – it is fiscal.

Any plastic policy, such as minor tax increases or modest planning regulations, will prompt laughter from the Cheshire set. An overhaul of the housing market is needed, as is investment in schemes for young people to stay local, with the crucial promise of jobs.

Of course, we are already too late in many, many places. Norman Thomas, the last Welsh speaker left in Cwm-yr-Eglwys, is 88-years-old. How poignant he looked this week. After him, there will be nobody – marking the death of Cymraeg as a community language in that quaint village.

This is just one consequence of the second home crisis; it also marks, more than anything, the culmination of Wales’s great, ancient story. We will become, as perhaps we have always destined to be, a theme park: a playground where our ‘locals’ are now tourists, having to buy a ticket to enter their ancestors’ community.

Just think, though: there will be so many rolling hills to walk, glittering lakes to swim, and culture to giggle and wonder about. If that sounds bad to you, then you’ll agree with me: it’s about time we took Wales off the market, for good.

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