Welsh campaigners had a point, says mayor who is quitting his village

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The Independent Online

The Ford family name has a long and illustrious association with Appledore. For more than a century, the Fords have provided the Devon village with products from boats to coffins. For Len Ford, the third Ford in as many generations to be mayor, it is a past to be proud of. But it is also a legacy that has become unsustainable in the face of the phenomenon changing his pastel-painted seaside idyll beyond recognition: second homes.

The Ford family name has a long and illustrious association with Appledore. For more than a century, the Fords have provided the Devon village with products from boats to coffins. For Len Ford, the third Ford in as many generations to be mayor, it is a past to be proud of. But it is also a legacy that has become unsustainable in the face of the phenomenon changing his pastel-painted seaside idyll beyond recognition: second homes.

The 44-year-old former gravedigger said the relentless march of the holiday home-owning classes - who now account for a third of all village property - is forcing him to sell up and leave.

Wearing the ceremonial chains of office worn by his father and grandfather, Mr Ford said: "I understand why people want to come here: Appledore is a beautiful, desirable place to live. But I haven't got the affection for the place I used to and it is time to go.

"I just don't recognise the place where I grew up. If you were born here and want to buy a house, you just can't, because the average price is £260,000. When I go into the pub these days, I don't recognise anybody. I'm more likely to meet someone from Appledore on holiday in Spain than I am at home."

One estimate reckons that 206,000 properties nationwide, worth £40bn, now serve as holiday homes in a market which has doubled in value in the past six years.

Appledore, a fishing village on the north Devon coast near Bideford, has seen property prices triple in a decade, in a community where the average wage is £15,000. The influx of weekenders is such that some streets are now 60 to 70 per cent holiday homes. Of the 1,200 houses in Appledore, 400 are second homes, of which 150 lie empty 48 weeks of the year.

Forty years ago, the village had three bakers, a surgery and a hairdresser. Now it has one Co-Op store. Terry Bailey, another long-term resident, said: "I know two families who have moved out within the past six months. Some people who moved here 20 years ago because they wanted a local community have moved on because the village has lost what they came to find."

For Mr Ford, whose grandfather Horace founded the H Ford & Sons boatyard, which was sold for redevelopment as holiday homes, it is symbolic of a changing community. His three brothers have already left the village.

He said: "On Christmas Day two years ago I walked up a street of 50-odd houses that 20 years ago would have all been occupied. I counted just 10 with the lights on. I don't think there is anything I can do to change it. I'm just one man."

Mr Ford said that although he did not support radical protests, such as when Welsh extremists burnt down holiday homes at the end of the 1970s, he could understand why the issue is so explosive.

He said: "I would never condone what happened in Wales in those days. But the Government should have acted then, and zoned areas for local need only. Now, I fear it is too late."

There is concern that services, such as the fire and lifeboat stations, could soon struggle to find sufficient crew. There are only nine volunteers to man the fire engine, it usually has 12. Mr Ford said: "It will get to the stage where you don't have enough long-term residents to make the place work."

Torridge District Council, where Mr Ford is a Liberal Democrat councillor, said it was taking measures to try to arrest the exodus, including imposing a 90 per cent council tax rate for second-home owners. The proceeds will be used to build affordable housing.

Henry Oliver, head of planning for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "Building more houses in the desirable areas won't solve the problem. Local authorities need stronger powers to designate an area for development as affordable housing. Otherwise we'll run out of people to make the economies in these places work."

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