'Ship has sailed' on protecting Whitby's old town charm says heritage expert as holiday let row rolls on

Protecting the old town of Whitby and surrounding areas has now become “very difficult”, heritage experts have warned.

It comes as traditional yards of fisherman’s cottages are deserted during the week, streets look they have had a power cut because there is no-one living in them during the winter and former council houses are being advertised as holiday lets for nearly £2,000 per week.

Dr John Field, from Whitby Civic Society, says that unless authorities get a grip on the balance between new housing, second homes and holiday lets the very thing that makes Whitby attractive to visitors will be lost.

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He lives in one of Whitby’s historical yards. When he moved there 25 years ago all houses were owner occupied – now, out of 20 properties, just three are lived in full-time.

Whitby Civic Society, says that unless authorities get a grip on the balance between new housing, second homes and holiday lets the very thing that makes Whitby attractive to visitors will be lost.

Last month a house was advertised for holiday let in a residential area in Whitby for more than £1,800 per week and during a visit to Runswick Bay, local MP Robert Goodwill thought there had been a power cut as none of the houses had lights on – they were all unoccupied.

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He says “the ship has sailed” on preventing traditional former fisherman’s cottages, such as those along cobbled Henrietta Street in Whitby’s old town, but backed calls made by Mr Goodwill and Scarborough Council for a tightening up of legislation on who can purchase new builds and affordable housing, and on properties being turned from residential to holiday lets.

“That housing (in the old town) is not going to attract younger families or retired people. They don’t want to carry shopping up flights of stairs and there is no parking. That I understand but nonetheless the growing density of holiday lets and second homes is a heritage issue. There is no simple answer.

Dr John Field, the chair of Whitby Civic Society.

“We have objected to a number of new developments or holiday lets, not because they are, but because they don’t fit into the area. New build does not have to look exactly like, but does have to fit in with the character of the conservation area – that is a legal requirement, we are not being fuddy duddy or nimby.

“The town won’t move forward if the heritage is destroyed. People come here because it looks and feels different, if it turns into just another town people won’t come.”

Holiday cottage owners paying business rates is “essential”, he says, as local residents are “subsidising” them. “No-one should be against tourism, second homes or holiday lets in principle. They help the local economy but at the same time it is clear Whitby is over-crowded in and it becomes difficult to maintain a quality of life if you live there.”

The Department for Levelling Up and Communities said it was taking action to combat the adverse impact holiday lets can have on local communities in popular tourist areas.

A spokesperson said: “We have introduced a number of measures, including introducing higher rates of Stamp Duty Land Tax for those purchasing additional properties and tightening tax rules for second home owners. It is important enough homes are built in the places where people and communities need them. Our First Homes scheme offers homes to local first-time buyers at a discounted price.”