COUNCIL tax will double for second homeowners and people with long-term empty properties in Swansea.
The full council approved the 100% hike, which will come into force in full on April 2021.
A second homeowner, David Etheridge, who has a property in Caswell, Gower, told councillors he felt the proposed increase was “disproportionate” and would drive him and his wife away from the area.
Council leader Rob Stewart said the authority had a difficult decision to make, but that it wanted to help places like Gower become more affordable for local people and also bring more empty homes back into use.
“If you can afford to have two, three or four homes you should quite rightly contribute more to that council tax position,” said the Labour leader.
Opposition group leader, Cllr Chris Holley, said he was concerned that the proposals had not been scrutinised before the recommendation to approve them was brought to the full council.
“I feel as if we have been ‘Boris-ed’ on this,” said the Liberal Democrat member, referring to the Prime Minister.
“There is a lot of this we should support, but there are issues which I’m afraid we can’t support.”
Cllr Holley said he wanted more clarity on exemptions, and added: “Let’s be blunt, it could have a negative impact on our holiday and tourism economy.”
The council tax premiums are expected to affect 1,100-second homes and just over 2,300 long-term empty homes – and raise £2.8 million for the authority every year.
Owners of long-term empty properties currently pay half the full council tax charge after an exemption period of up to six months – but the Welsh Government will stop subsidising this 50% discount from April 2020.
Cabinet member for housing, Cllr Andrea Lewis, said Swansea had lost 4,000 council houses to the private sector during Margaret Thatcher’s time, which was very similar to the number on the current housing waiting list.
Conservative member Will Thomas, whose ward covers Langland, said he backed the proposals as he didn’t want to see the seaside area become less vibrant in the winter.
“Although they (second homeowners) do bring money to the area, I think people living there 365 days a year bring a lot more,” he said.
Cabinet member for education, Cllr Jennifer Raynor, said she was concerned about the impact of second homes, especially in South Gower and Swansea Marina.
“Some of our villages are deserts – I’m thinking Horton and Port Eynon,” she said.
“I think it’s worrying that we are unable to sustain schools because we have allowed holiday homes to take over.”
Cllr Wendy Fitzgerald, of Independents@Swansea, said long-term empty properties could be “an absolute blight on residential areas”.
But she said she was hesitant that a large majority of people who responded to a council survey opposed the second home council tax hike, while less than half felt an empty home hike should be the full 100%.
“We get a view expressed by the public – a majority view – and then we ignore it because the council knows better,” she said.
Cllr Stewart said many of the survey respondents were second homeowners, and will “obviously” disagree with the proposed 100% increase.
And he recalled a consultation when the opposition was in charge prior to 2012 on the Slip Bridge, near St Helen’s.
“The public wanted it put back – the administration decided to put it on the promenade,” he said.
The measures were passed by a large majority, with a handful of councillors abstaining and one – Gower member Richard Lewis – voting against them.
The empty home premium will start in April 2020, but the six-month exemption period will remain, followed by six months at normal council tax rate with the 100% premium kicking in after that.
One opponent of the second home premium said in their response to the survey that they would sell up if it was passed and that local businesses would suffer as a result.
Another respondent, from Port Eynon, said every house that came up for sale was bought as a holiday home or rental.
“There are now no young people left in the village,” they said. “That is sad and outrageous.”