Spinster rejects £2m in battle to keep stars away

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The Independent Online

An elderly spinster has turned down the opportunity to make £2m in her personal battle to keep celebrities and owners of second homes out of her picturesque village.

Isobel Waterhouse, 71, donated four cottages in East Portlemouth, Devon, to the newly formed Waterhouse Trust to provide affordable rented housing for young families, in the village recently listed as the sixth most expensive place to buy a home in Britain.

Miss Waterhouse, whose grandparents bought the cottages after the First World War, said yesterday: "I was born here and I should hate to see this village die. If we are not careful and we don't do something, I believe it will die. Local people cannot afford to buy in the village so we lose our local people and our young families growing up. I'm doing it because I hope that other people will enjoy the places that I have and for young families to grow up in this magical place."

The pensioner has been feted by villagers who have grown increasingly weary of wealthy Londoners snapping up all their best properties. The village on the Salcombe Estuary has become a haven for rich yachtsmen, media personalities and celebrities. Jonathan and David Dimbleby both have homes there as do pop stars Kate Bush and Damon Albarn, royal correspondent Jennie Bond, comedian Rik Mayall and BBC sports presenter Steve Ryder, and Michael Parkinson is a regular visitor. House prices around Salcombe have become so high the lifeboat has problems recruiting crewmen because none of them can afford to live there. East Portlemouth already has one of the highest levels of second home ownership with around 30 of its 40 properties owned by outsiders.

The school and shop have closed and Miss Waterhouse is determined to save what little is left of village life, instead of pocketing as much as £500,000 for each of her four cottages.

The first tenant of the new Waterhouse Trust is boat builder Tristan Stone, 26, whose family has made traditional 17ft wooden Salcombe yawl sailing dinghies for almost a century. Mr Stone, who pays just £300 a month to rent the cottage, said: "The house opposite me has just been sold for £5m. At those prices there is no way I could afford to rent or buy somewhere in East Portlemouth. The big houses have been second homes for as long as anyone can remember but now the little cottages are going for silly prices as well."

Parish council chairman Lindsey Lindley said: "Isobel is single-handedly saving our community and the future of the village. We have an ageing population and it is very difficult for people to buy homes they can afford and to work in the village. If it carries on we will not have much of a village life left. Her generosity in setting up this trust fund is just what we need."