Cornwall: This summer's playground
Although one of the poorest counties in the country, Cornwall is the place to be this summer
Sunday 06 August 2006
It is the place to see and be seen. Amid high summer temperatures, the Cornish coast has become the new playground for the rich and famous alongside families who have been coming for years.
Yet not all is well. Although the Cornwall tourist board estimates that the boom will bring £225m into the local economy, a wave of resentment is sweeping the region officially described as one of the poorest in Europe.
Robin Kent, 33, a surfer and lifeguard, is typical of the local people being priced out of housing, restaurants and even jostled off the waves. New figures show that more than 200,000 Britons own holiday homes in the UK, and almost 20 per cent of those are in Cornwall.
"Second homers" have caused the price of property to soar way beyond the means of young people who had hoped to settle in the area where they were born and grew up. Coupled with Cornwall's notoriously low wages, huge numbers of locals are left on council housing waiting lists.
Mr Kent moved into a caravan for almost a year after the break-up of a long-term relationship. He said: "My daughter, my partner and I had been living with her parents for ages. It was good of them but living so closely with other people causes a lot of tension. It just got too much." The caravan, on a small plot of land owned by his family in St Agnes, was a means to an end. "As a lifeguard you get a contract which lasts five months if you're lucky. You earn up to £7,000, then the season ends. That's got to see you through the winter topped up with a bit of labouring or painting.
"That's why so many of us head abroad between autumn and spring. It allows you to indulge your passion for surfing but it's also far cheaper to live in Sri Lanka than it is to stay in Cornwall for the winter."
In 2005 the average weekly wage in Devon and Cornwall was £329 - 19 per cent below the national average and the third lowest in Britain. Local families rely on the sea to make their living, and some let their homes during the summer months. Seasonal workers are forced to live in tents and caravans.
A huge boom in watersports has meant that it is not just the land that has become overpopulated, but the waves too. Mr Kent said: "Only 10 years ago a car with a surfboard on its roof was the exception rather than the rule coming down the M4 or M5."
Just down the coast at Porthtowan, primary school teacher James Male, 29, is about to take his first step on the property ladder. He said: "I've got my eye on a two-bed flat for £150,000 and I've pretty much got a 10 per cent deposit together. There haven't been any exotic holidays abroad surfing for me because I've got the commitment of a job but I also need to save every penny I can."
Mr Male used to supplement his lifeguard's income with bar work and modelling. He is hoping to do some surfing instructing over the six-week summer holiday to save even more.
The problems are vividly underlined in north Cornwall. Dubbed Chelsea-on-Sea, the normally sleepy hamlet of Rock is transformed every summer into a playground of princes (including William and Harry), socialites and the occasional movie star. In recent years at least 10 bungalows have been bought here, pushing prices to more than £1m. More pertinently, there were 103 crimes committed in the area last year - most of them blamed on holidaymakers.
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