'A major strain on prices' - calls for tourist numbers to be cut in seaside town
PUBLISHED: 17:30 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:05 10 July 2019
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A survey of people in one of Norfolk's most popular towns has found that most think tourism should be restricted through controls over development due to concerns over parking, the environment and traffic.
Responding to the question "Do you think that tourism should in any way be restricted in and around Wells by controls over development?" 77.8pc -235 - said yes and 17.2pc - 52 - said no.
The town's neighbourhood plan steering group ran the survey, and its chairman Roger Arguile said he was unsurprised by the results.
Mr Arguile said: "There are some new housing areas, one, which is called Mainsail Yard, and there's only one local person living there. In winter, a lot of the town is dark because no-one is there."
Mr Arguile said the percentage of second homes in Wells had jumped from 21pc 10 years ago to 31pc today, but in the previous 10 years, it had only increased by 1pc.
"There has been a huge influx, and it's put a major strain on prices," he said.
"It's very rare to see anything less than £350,000 on the market and there is an increasing number of properties that sell for more £1m.
"Very few working people can afford to buy a house in Wells and that has some serious effects."
One example was that some teachers who had applied for jobs in Wells later withdrew their applications when they found out how expensive the town was, Mr Arguile said.
He added: "We need more genuinely affordable houses."
A report about the survey's findings states: "It should be noted that instead of limiting tourism, some respondents preferred managing it and some wanted us to recognise how vital it is for our economy."
But Mr Arguile said he was unsure what, if anything could curb what some see as an excess of tourists in the town.
"I'm not sure what can be done but the point is that tourism levels are a major strain on prices," he said.
"One way is if all the car parks are full, but that leads to people parking on pavements and driveways."
He said tourists brought benefits, but: "We don't need more tourism provision."
But Phil Platten, owner of Platten's Fish and Chips, which employs more than 50 people, said it would be folly to try to restrict anyone from coming to Wells, be they tourists or second home owners.
He said: "I've lived here for 50-odd years and I can cast my mind back to times when there was little employment and shops were boarded up. After a lot of debate it as decided tourism should be the future of Wells. We should be patting ourselves on the back that it's been successful."
Tourism to north Norfolk in general is booming. The latest figures released (for 2017) show the number of overnight trips to the district rose by more than 12pc year on year, compared to just three percent on average for England.
The report said tourism was worth £505m for north Norfolk in 2017.
Second homes owners 'hollowing out' popular towns and villages is an ongoing issue in north Norfolk, and this newspaper recently highlighted the situation in Burnham Market, dubbed 'Chelsea on sea'.
North Norfolk MP Sir Norman Lamb said he was sceptical whether tourism could be restricted, but said more could be done to tackle the issue of second homes. He said second homes owners were sometimes known to avoid paying tax on their properties by putting them up for let for more than 140 days a year, which meant they could be classed as a business, and then receive 100pc relief on business rates.
He said: "A high proportion of homes being second homes can rip the heart out of a community.
"I think making sure local people can find a home is the most important thing."
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But Robert Smith, Wells' harbour master, said: "A lot of people who buy second homes here also bring economic benefits and opportunities to the area. When people move up to Wells, they often restore their homes and put a lot of work into them, which local people might not have the funds to do."
Mr Smith agreed that tourism needed to be managed rather than restricted, and having somewhere to park outside the town might be a way to mitigate some problems.
Overtourism: How are other places dealing with it?
The idea of curbing visitor numbers is gaining traction at many of the world's tourism hotspots, as an ever increasing proportion of the world's population gains the means to spend their holidays away from home.
And methods of controlling tourist numbers range from the high-tech to the humble, for example:
- Authorities in Cinque Terre, Italy, have created an app so tourists can see how many people are on the trails between the regions's famous cliffside towns, before deciding if they want to join the throngs.
-In the Netherlands, the famous 'I amsterdam' sign has been removed from its spot outside an art museum to ward off the hordes of selfie-stick totting visitors.
-Peru's ancient Inca city Machu Picchu has turned to time slots and limits to protect the site from damage and rubbish pile-ups.
-Venice has started restricting tourists to certain parts of the city over busy weekends, so residential zones don't get too busy.
Limiting tourists: The view from the street
We asked people out and abut in Wells what they thought of the idea of restricting tourist numbers through future development decisions.
Kevin Wash, 65, part-time Wells resident: "It's a balancing act, because this place is dead in winter. I was born here, but my parents moved to the North because there was no work going around here. I come back because I like it, and I try to walk 10 miles a day."
Chris Cooper, 36, Sheffield: "We have a big student population there, and some people don't like them. But they bring money in, so you can't have it both ways. It also happens in the peak district, where locals can't buy local because it's so expensive, so I think it's a bit of a nationwide problem."
Margaret Hodgkins, 72, said: "I have friends who have been here a couple of times already this year, they still found things to do, and even without that mobility there are still places to meander. There's lots of lovely places here, I would definitely come again, despite the traffic."
Gail Whitworth, 51, who works in a bakery in Wells, said: "If they restrict tourism, they kill the town.
"So much of our business is tourism based. Sure you get locals who come in keep us ticking over, but it's mostly a matter of making money in summer to cover the losses in the winter.
"My sons can't afford to buy houses around here, so I've had to get a mortgage with one of them to make sure he can. I live in a village a short distance from here, and 85pc of houses there are holiday houses or second homes."
Second homes were also an issue for Emma Stickley, 35, who chatted to customers in her gallery. "You can tell when they're second homes, you get to know. Wells is so friendly, you say hi to everyone out on the street even if you don't know where exactly they live. So you soon get an idea which houses are second homes. And all the cleaning jobs make it obvious.
"You also get to notice how some people have a disregard for the place. Obviously it's not 100pc tourists, and not 100pc of tourists, but you notice litter. As the town is now, I don't think more tourism is sustainable, but even in the town relies on it."
Additional reporting by Matthew Farmer