Northern Ireland news

Covid-19 enforced staycations threatening to create 'ghost towns' near Northern Ireland beauty spots

Dunluce Castle on the north Antrim coast where the number of second homes is increasing and putting pressures on locals wanting to rent or buy

A SPIKE in people buying holiday homes in Northern Ireland beauty spots are making it "almost impossible" for locals to buy or rent in their own home towns.

East Derry assembly member Claire Sugden has called on the Executive to ensure there is adequate local housing provision in areas with high numbers of second homes.

She said popular tourist areas across the north have experienced a housing rush since the start of the coronavirus pandemic because people are less able to holiday abroad.

"In many areas - including some in my own constituency - it's becoming almost impossible to buy or even rent a house," she said.

"Without long-term residents, local businesses suffer, schools become under subscribed and the feeling of community is damaged.

"We by no means want to become a closed shop for people seeking to buy a holiday home - second home owners are a valued part of the community - but steps must be taken to ensure a balance is struck, that communities are protected and that local families can find and afford a house in their own town."

She said lessons must be learned from areas like Cornwall and Devon in England, where "ghost-town" communities have been created outside the holiday months.

"The (census) figures... have yet to be compiled, but even 10 years ago the percentages of second homes in Portstewart, Castlerock and Portballintrae were 28, 32 and 58 per cent.

"It is expected that the latest run on houses will increase these percentages even further.

"Tellingly, the number of children under 10 in these towns, plus others such as Portrush, has continued to plummet."

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said a new Housing Supply Strategy was started last month and her department's Social Housing Development Programme is looking at areas in most need.

She is also seeking approval to carry out a consultation on the Housing Executive House Sales Scheme.

Ms Sugden said such strategies and schemes "take time" and people in the affected areas "are struggling right now".

She called on councils to use their powers on new developments and rates "to help ensure the long-term viability and survival of these areas as living, breathing towns".

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