Whitby residents vote to ban new holiday homes after influx of tourists

“Be warned,” cautions Whitby’s tourist information website. “You may decide to stay forever.” But it’s not visitors staying forever who have attracted the ire of residents. It’s those who decide to buy a second home in the pretty North Yorkshire seaside town and spend just a fraction of their time there – or rent it out to holidaymakers.

While tourists have flocked to the port and fishing community since Georgian times, today they’re almost everywhere you look: defending their fish and chips from seagulls on the quayside; drinking outside the pubs; admiring the ruined abbey that overlooks the teeming, winding streets, with their shops selling trinkets and sweets and Whitby Jet.

Every picturesque lane is full of holiday lets. Even in the less picturesque parts – the blocks that overlook car parks, and the new-build housing estates on the outskirts – much of the accommodation is vacation homes. By last year, almost 20 per cent of the town’s housing stock was holiday lets or second homes, compared with about eight per cent two decades earlier. 

Enough is enough, say full-time residents, who on Monday voted, in an unusual town poll, overwhelmingly in favour of banning people from buying new-build properties as second homes. On a 22.7 per cent turnout, 2,111 voters replied “yes” to the question, “Should all new build and additional housing in Whitby parish be restricted to full time local occupation as a primary residence?” Only 157 said no. 

The result is not legally binding, but residents hope it will heap pressure on Scarborough Borough Council to follow other tourist towns such as St Ives in Cornwall in introducing restrictions





Derek Brown says holiday homes have ‘ruined’ Whitby


Credit:
Charlotte Graham

“I don’t agree with all the second homes,” says Derek Brown from behind the counter at Fortune’s Kippers, a family business dating from 1872. “We’re losing all the young kids, everyone’s gone away. The character of the town is changing.”

Over the years, he’s watched as the lanes around his shop and smokehouse have gradually been conquered by holiday lets. With the mouth of the River Esk on one side and, looming up on the other, the gothic ruins that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s easy to see why. But, says Brown bluntly, there are now so many holiday homes “it’s ruined the town”. 

The lack of parking is a common complaint; the skyrocketing real estate costs is another. The average house price here was £245,405 last year, according to RightMove – an almost 30 per cent increase since 2019. For those accustomed to London prices, this may seem fairly affordable. But to anyone working in the tourism sector that drives Whitby’s economy, the cost of buying is prohibitive and, they say, there are few rental properties available. 

Hospitality bosses complain the situation is exacerbating staff shortages. “People from out of town want jobs here, but there’s nowhere for them to live,” says Darren Harrison, manager of The Bridge Inn. And those whose properties here are not their primary residence will not be looking for local work.

If the problem has existed for a while, Whitby’s popularity among second home-owners shot up during the pandemic. Last summer, estate agents saw a buying frenzy. “We had maybe 20 [buyers] interested in each property,” says Alison Conn at Jacksons Estate Agents. Out-of-towners were putting in offers without even seeing the houses. “They were selling at maybe £15,000 over the asking price.”

Some of the buyers were Londoners, but many were from the so-called Golden Triangle of Leeds, Harrogate and York. A few have had buyer’s remorse. “Some holiday cottages are coming back on the market now because there are problems with staff and the owners can’t get people to service them,” says Conn.  





It has been a busy time for estate agent Alison Conn


Credit: Charlotte Graham

But if locals complain the tipping point has been reached with second homes, some point to another side of the story. Christine, who lives in York but bought a second home in Whitby 22 years ago, says it’s not just outsiders causing the problems: full-time residents have invested in holiday lets here too. “There are people who live here who have two or three houses, if not more,” she says. 

As for those who lament the preponderance of shops catering to tourists, and the loss of the local greengrocers and butchers, Christine observes that residents had stopped using them anyway. “They all went to [shop in] Middlesbrough or Scarborough,” she says. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” 

Her friend, a local woman who doesn’t want to be named, agrees that vilifying outsiders for buying up the housing stock is unfair. “A lot of the Victorian cottages are high maintenance and there aren’t really many locals who want to live in them,” she says. “[Those who buy them as second homes] are maintaining the houses that give Whitby its character. If they’re being used, then that’s a good thing.”

In a similar vein, the number of empty shops in Whitby’s central streets is notably small compared to in many British towns. Even during winter, there’s a steady flow of visitors, all spending money in the local economy. 

“Holiday lets and second home owners for me are good business,” says Jane Hunt, owner of Treasure Hunt, a vintage store. “The holiday let owners come in here more than local people do.”

Michelle Anderson, owner of Whitby Hampers, is similarly sceptical of the anti-outsider narrative. “We wouldn’t have half the businesses in town if it wasn’t for other people coming in,” she says. “It’s nice to have an influx of different people. With them come different ideas.”