Almost half of all properties in Fife seaside village are holiday homes, research shows

IT is a picturesque seaside village nestled on Scotland's stunning East Neuk of Fife.

But pass through at the wrong time of year and you would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a ghost town.

Almost half of all houses in Elie and Earlsferry are holiday homes, according to statistics which lay bare Scotland's growing problem with empty and underused properties. Figures show a remarkable 45 per cent of the coastal village's 937 houses are classed as second homes – but some locals insist the true figure is even higher.

Research by the Scottish Greens reveals more than 100,000 properties are lying empty or underused across Scotland, while the proportion of empty homes has risen from 2.76 per cent to 3.05% in a decade.

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Fife councillor Bill Porteous said Elie and Earlsferry had perhaps the highest number of second homes outside of London.

He said: "The community is concerned for the long-term viability of both villages.

"It is not the fact they are second homes, but that they are empty most of the year and add little to the social side of the place – and more importantly, provide little economic benefit to the local shops and businesses and also provide no children and families to sustain the primary school."

Graham Johnston, 73, who lives in Elie, claimed as many as 70% of properties were being used as holiday homes, with knock-on effects for businesses and school rolls.

He added: "Living here full time, it's quite nice to have the run of the place, but it's rather discouraging in the winter to see a cat once a week in Earlsferry, if you're lucky."

A major report by the Scottish Greens shows the five council areas with the greatest proportion of holiday homes are rural – covering the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Borders and Argyll and Bute.

Meanwhile, the five local authorities with the greatest number of empty homes are mainly urban, taking in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen.

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Empty homes dominate deprived areas such as Toryglen and Carnwadric in Glasgow, while tourist hotspots such as Elie and Earlsferry suffer the greatest number of second homes.

While the number of holiday homes has fallen in recent years, the Greens argue this is offset by the rapid rise in short-term letting.

The party is calling for inconsistencies in data to be addressed, and for an end to the tax loophole that allows owners of second homes to avoid paying council tax by listing their property as a business.

It also wants to allow councils to control the spread of holiday homes and short-term lets by making them subject to extra planning regulations – while also handing local authorities compulsory purchase powers to bring empty homes and vacant land into use.

Green MSP Andy Wightman, who co-authored the new report with researcher Ciaran McDonald, expressed his incredulity that the number of empty homes was rising.

He said: "People are crying out for affordable housing, yet we have a total of over 100,000 empty and underused second homes across the country.

“The Scottish Government has long overlooked the issue of empty homes and there's a risk that its response will be too little too late. Second homes remain a blight in many communities and inflating house prices beyond the reach of local people.

"The Scottish Greens' proposed overhaul of legislation would deliver the fresh energy needed to tackle Scotland's housing crisis."

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Housing minister Kevin Stewart said long-term empty homes are a "blight on communities and a wasted resource at a time when we need more homes".

He added: "New powers introduced in 2013 allow local authorities to apply a council tax levy on long term empty properties to encourage private owners to bring them back into use.

“Local authorities already have wide ranging compulsory purchase powers which can be used to bring empty homes and vacant land back into positive use.

"In addition we have committed to introducing legislation within the term of this Parliament to provide authorities with a new power to promote compulsory sale orders to tackle the blight of abandoned buildings and small plots of land in town centres and communities.” is the online edition of Scotland's favourite newspapers, that brings you your Daily news. Every day we bring you the best in Scottish news, sport, entertainment and opinion, including breaking news, picture galleries, videos and live blogs.

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