Our once-thriving seaside village has become a ghost town as posh toffs snap up HALF the homes and raise house prices

LOCALS in a once-thriving seaside village say it has become a ghost town because posh toffs have bought up half the homes.

With its glorious beach and jaw-dropping coastal scenery the village of Croyde, North Devon, has become one of Britain’s most desirable seaside getaways.

Neil HopeCroyde on the North Devon coast has become one of the UK’s most desirable seaside getaways[/caption]

Neil HopeBob Gibbs who runs Bridge Farm bed & breakfast in Croyde says buy-to-rent is taking properties away from local people[/caption]

Neil HopeRalph Freeman who runs a surf shop in Croyde says locals are angry about the lack of planning controls[/caption]

Surfers head there by the hundred at any hint of a big-wave swell while families pack the sands each summer for a traditional bucket-and-spade break.

Yet the popularity of Croyde, and its adjoining village of Georgeham, has led to a bitter backlash among locals as buy-to-let investors from “up-country” scramble for holiday homes in what is a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

According to a 2017 survey by the Croyde Area Residents Association, 354 of the total 617 properties are second homes or buy-to-lets – 57.4 per cent of the housing stock.

Residents fear the trend is creating “ghost villages”.

One street, which has a single permanent resident, has become known as “Lights Out Lane” because so many properties stay dark in winter.

Surf shop owner Ralph Freeman, 61, blames local and central government for allowing a free-for-all among buyers.

“People are angry about the lack of planning controls,” he said. “There’s great dissatisfaction with the system.

“Obviously, the tourist industry needs visitors and I accept that it’s too late to stop existing buy-to-let owners renting on Airbnb and the like.

“But how many more Airbnbs can we take? There surely has to be a balance.

“Communities have died elsewhere because of this and we need tougher rules if we’re to avoid going under.

“If people could find affordable rental properties it would help.

People are angry about the lack of planning controls

Surf shop owner Ralph Freeman

“Instead, those doing vital jobs, like teachers, nurses and policemen, are priced out of our villages along with young people working in hospitality on low wages.

Bob Gibbs, 81, runs a Croyde B&B in the pretty thatched cottage where his 77-year-old wife Susan grew up.

He said: “Buy-to-rent is taking away properties from local people – that’s for sure.

“In winter the problem is obvious. So many houses are empty and in darkness.

“But because they’re so expensive there’s nothing for young families.

“In summer and at weekends the pubs and business do okay. But that’s thanks to visitors coming down from the cities.”

When The Sun Online visited Croyde on the North Devon coast we found one residential lane in the heart of the village with eight properties and just one permanent resident.

One local living nearby told us: “It’s known as Lights Out Lane. Apart from a bungalow, you’ll never see a light on there during winter.

“The houses have all been bought as investments by people from up-country – mostly London and the south-east.

Buy-to-rent is taking away properties from local people

Bob Gibbs

“The cheapest would set you back £500,000 to buy and renting one in season costs thousands a week.

“In fairness, local families are also cashing in. Some have owned homes in Croyde for decades.

“If you’re a young person on minimum wage in the tourist industry, and you’re hoping to live in the place you grew up, those houses might as well be on the moon.

“If you can’t buy and you can’t rent, you can’t stay.

“It’s why local pubs and businesses can’t get staff – even if they have enough out of season trade to make it worth opening.”

On roads with a sea view the problem is even worse.

Along nearby Chesil Cliff, stands Britain’s so-called “saddest house”, featured on TV’s Grand Designs, which took owner Edward Short, 52, ten years to build, left him with crippling bills and eventually cost him his marriage.

He fulfilled his dream to replace a 1950s home on the site with the art-deco style “lighthouse”.

But it is still up for sale and, like 22 of the other 32 properties lining that stretch of Croyde’s coast, has no permanent resident.

Time and again we found Croyde and Georgeham locals furious at the way traditionally built seaside homes are bought up to knock down and replace with “monstrous” glass edifices.

In Georgeham, 71-year-old ground works contractor Les Oldham told us: “It really is annoying. People are fed up with it.

“There are no smaller houses suitable for young families being built. Instead wealthy buyers knock down traditionally-built homes and replace them with these huge, horrible, glass-fronted buildings.

There are too many holiday lets and second homes

Les Oldham

“We call them supermarkets. They never have enough parking to cope with full occupancy so that leads to another problem as visitors park on the narrow lanes.

“There are too many holiday lets and second homes. I have 23 houses around me and 11 are hardly ever used.

Pensioner Gillian Byrom said she didn’t begrudge holidaymakers wanting a break on one of Britain’s most beautiful coasts.

But she added: “There’s no doubt that property prices have driven young people out.

“As a result, we have too many older people living in large houses – often large houses that replace smaller ones.”

Husband Mike Byrom added: “Georgeham and Croyde need holidaymakers staying here for the pubs and shops to survive.

“Businesses do ok. However there has to be a balance. There’s a plan for 22 affordable homes to be built in Georgeham and they’re badly needed.”

Georgeham Parish Council wants people buying up properties to prove they will be permanently occupied.

Its Neighbourhood Development Plan, which includes Croyde, states: “Our main communities risk becoming ghost villages without a healthy proportion of permanent residents.

“This will impact the sustainability of the whole economy.

“Some areas of Croyde – and now parts of Georgeham – are increasingly at risk of becoming overpopulated with visitors, as properties are enlarged and reconfigured internally to accommodate more people.

“These properties are often registered as large family homes of four bedrooms or more, but an internet check reveals that this is not their actual or intended use.

“Therefore, occupiers of homes with a principal residence condition should be required to keep proof that they are meeting the condition’ and provide this proof should the District Council request it.

“Proof of principal residence is, for example, being on the local electoral register or registered with a local healthcare practice, or regular payment of utility bills that demonstrate year-round use.”

Parish councillor Dr Eirene Williams said: “Most holiday home owners run their properties as businesses.

“So they pay business rates direct to central government rather than paying council tax to support local services.

“There’s a lot of unhappiness about that locally. It seems unreasonable and unfair.

“We see smaller properties sold for very high prices – far more than most local people can afford.

“Then those same properties get knocked down and replaced with something much bigger – often with vast amounts of glass. There have been some real horrors in Croyde.

“The parish council has again and again recommended refusal of planning permission for this kind of development because it clashes so badly with our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“But no one ever seems to take any notice.”

Earlier this month, we revealed some of the most beautiful seaside towns around the country.

Salcombe in Devon toppped a list of the most expensive seaside towns to buy a property in the UK.

Blackpool has been named as the the cheapest seaside town to have a staycation.

Neil HopeAuthor Henry Williamson’s former home in Georgeham is now a holiday let[/caption]

Neil HopeLes Oldham thinks there are too many holiday lets and second homes in the area[/caption]

Neil HopeMike and Gillian Byrom say affordable housing is needed in the area[/caption]

Neil HopeCroyde is located on the picturesque North Devon coast[/caption]

Neil HopeHoliday lets in Croyde are pushing up property prices making them unaffordable to locals, residents say[/caption]