Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Ceredigion, 4 August 2022.
A million people say they can speak Irish, but only around eighty thousand use it every day.
Will that be the case for Cymraeg by 2050?
With all respect to the Irish language, a decline in our Welsh-speaking communities is one of the things that keeps me awake at night.
I often say that Cymraeg belongs to us all as individuals, and that’s important. My message is a little bit different this afternoon: i.e. Cymraeg also belongs to our communities.
For our language to continue its development as a national language, we must take steps to strengthen it as a community language too. There are parts of Wales where it’s under threat.
We won’t succeed if only Canton sees increases in the number of Welsh speakers, and not Tregaron, Tudweiliog, Newport Pembs.
That’s the main substance of my session today: what I, as Minister, am going to do to help our Welsh-speaking communities. And what others can do too. I’d like to know what you think about all this as we chat later about what we’re proposing and what we’re doing—there’s certainly no monopoly on good ideas from the government or me as a Minister. Solutions will come from you all—I know how much passion there is out there about this. And I share that passion: and more about that in just a moment.
Wales is a welcoming nation, and we always want that to be the case. Tourism’s an important industry, but too much holiday accommodation and too many second homes that are empty for much of the year are damaging—in terms of ensuring healthy and vibrant communities. This can also cause higher house prices of course—which means that the local population is priced out of the market. They can’t live ‘at home’. That’s a matter of social justice, and it is detrimental to our language.
And it’s usually easier to describe the problem—and the need for action—than it is to solve that problem properly.
We in Government have started work to ease the pressure on communities where there are a large number of second homes:
We’ve extended powers for local authorities to charge a higher council tax on second homes and empty homes—up to 300%.
We’ve changed the rules around short-term holiday accommodation so that owners make a fair contribution to their communities—you can’t avoid paying council tax.
By the end of the summer we’ll move on to introduce three new planning use classes—"main residence, second home and short-term holiday accommodation."
And local planning authorities will then be able to require property owners to seek planning permission in order to change the use from one of these classes to another. In so doing, we’ll be more able to manage the use of new housing developments. And that could be beneficial to our language.
It’ll also be possible to manage the number of second and holiday homes in a community—including the ability to impose a cap by amending national planning policy.
Wales is leading in this area.
But we need to do more. And there’s more to come.
We’ve committed to introducing a statutory licensing framework. This will mean that you have to have a licence to run visitor accommodation including short-term holiday accommodation. The aim is to ensure that it’s possible to have control over the numbers of dwellings that are let, and how that happens. From AIRBNB to FAIRBNB, one could say.
We’ve also consulted on the land transaction tax . There are two rates for dwelling houses—one normal and one higher rate. The latter is 4% higher when buying a second or additional dwelling.
Here in Wales the highest rates are paid when buying additional residential property, including second homes—that’s the highest rate in comparison to other parts of the United Kingdom.
We sought views on the right to vary rates locally in areas with high rates of second homes and holiday accommodation. There was very significant support for doing so. And there’ll be more on that soon.
I now want to turn to yet another thing that we’re going to do to help our Welsh-speaking communities, i.e. the final version of our Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan. We’ll be publishing that next month when the Senedd is back in session.
Everything in the plan will be in addition to the measures I’ve already mentioned. And it’s is all the better for your contributions to it. Earlier this year we consulted on the draft plan. We received almost 800 responses.
Those are all evidence of the passion I mentioned earlier. Diolch to all of you who contributed. It shows your concern about the increase in second homes and the impact of those on our communities and our language. We’ve listened to you and I hope that we’re taking a lead.
What you told us has helped us further develop the ideas.
We’ll also publish an analysis of your answers, which will show you how what you told us has fed into what we’ll be publishing.
The main aim of the Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan is to empower communities to create and develop schemes for themselves. We won’t impose solutions on communities—we’ll act according to the wishes of local communities.
And as I’ve suggested this morning in another context, it’s also worth mentioning that it’s more than just a housing plan. It draws together housing, the economy, community development and language planning. It’s a real example of ‘mainstreaming’ our language into other policies in the Government (to use the current jargon).
One aspect of the plan is what we intend to do to create more community-led co-operatives, and there was a lot of support for this idea in the consultation responses. Bear in mind too that politically, I’m a Labour and Co-operative Party man.
These cooperatives will be places for people to work and unfetteredly use their Welsh: ‘monolingual spaces’ so to say.
We’ve already provided £150,000 this year working with CWMPAS (formerly Wales Co-operative Centre) to make a start at this. Well, I say ‘start’—the wide experience within CWMPAS in this area is second to none. It’s a pleasure to work with them.
So what’s new? We’ll work closely with organisations that have already led innovative cooperatives where Cymraeg is central to their work. We may see co-operative housing schemes. We may see community land trusts.
And we’ll create more cooperatives too. And more cooperatives for Cymraeg equals more use of Cymraeg.
We also want to work with estate agents. They have a key role in the housing market—as do solicitors, mortgage companies and local authorities.
On estate agents—the vast majority of them are small companies that know and understand their local housing market well. There’s an opportunity to work with their expertise so that we can share information about support to help local people buy or rent affordable housing.
We’ll also create a network of cultural ambassadors. These will be local people, who know their communities well and can help integrate new people into them. They’ll share information about life in their community. They’ll share how important Cymraeg is, as well as our local traditions and heritage. People are more willing to belong to a community when they understand the community they live in.
We often hear about houses being sold before they go on the market, or being sold quickly to buyers with enough means to buy them—often without the need for a mortgage. Do remember that estate agents don’t decide who buys a property. The final decision is, of course, in the hands of the seller.
We also sometimes hear about sellers accepting lower prices from local people, sellers giving people sufficient time to arrange a mortgage and also people putting covenants on their properties. There are examples of individuals inheriting housing and wanting to ensure that they remain homes for local families. There are examples of sellers helping buyers, which is why we’ll be setting up a fair chance scheme for local people.
This will be a voluntary scheme to help people who want to sell decide exactly how they sell a property. Central to this will be allowing housing to be marketed locally only for a fixed period of time. Why voluntary? Because it’s not possible for us to force sellers to give local people a fair chance, but we can highlight the benefits of doing that and that’s what we’ll do.
Since we published the draft Welsh-Language Communities Housing Plan we’ve announced our intention to fund the ARFOR programme. This stems from the collaboration agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. Work is underway to develop ARFOR 2 that will support the economy of Welsh-speaking heartlands. This aims to build on ARFOR 1. We’re keen to make sure that this adds value to everything, including the Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan.
An important part of the plan will be to work to protect place names, and we received, as you may expect, a strong, constructive response to this question in the consultation.
We know that the names of houses, businesses, lakes and mountains affect the sense of place, and that people are naturally concerned about this.
That’s why we’re committed to doing all that we can to protect Welsh place names, so that future generations can enjoy our culture, history and our language.
Work is also underway to develop a list of historic place names for the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales. Last week, the Commission published a report on how this list is being used, and it contained several positive recommendations. We’ll work closely with the Commission on this work.
Many of you have asked us to do more. And I’m very happy to consider doing so. And to do that, we need more evidence: not just about the number of names that are changing, but about how and where it happens. "protect[ing] Welsh language place names" is included in our programme for government.
So we’ll carry on working with local authorities to see exactly what’s going on. Different solutions will be needed to be able to make a real difference. And I’m serious about making a difference. There’s often pressure on us to legislate to tackle this—and we’re not saying no to legislation despite comments to the contrary. But legislation for what exact end is the question that needs answering. What we’re saying is that we need to understand more about what’s happening. And we’re working on that now.
This morning Dr Simon Brooks and I held a discussion outlining the work of the new Commission for Welsh-speaking Communities. I’m pleased that Simon has accepted the task of chairing the Commission, and I’m grateful to the Members of the Commission for agreeing to support him.
We didn’t create a new organisation this morning—that’s not what the Commission’s about. Rather, it’s a group of experts to tell us the unalloyed truth about how the economy, policy and demographic decisions affect the future of the Welsh language in our communities. I.e. a direct link between language planning and economic, social and community development. This will probably be challenging, but these links are all vital to the prosperity of our Welsh-speaking communities. We’ve got big ambitions in the Welsh Government for our language, and I as Minister for the Welsh Language will embed that ambition in evidence and reality.
The Commission will respond to the challenges facing Welsh-speaking communities in the light of the publication of the census results. It will analyse those results and show the reality within our Welsh-speaking communities. And then, by drawing on the knowledge of experts in the field, it will draft a report that will make policy recommendations. Those recommendations will bridge policy areas from education to the economy. By looking at these areas together, we want to develop solutions together that address the challenges facing our Welsh-speaking communities as a whole.
The census will also be a means of identifying areas of linguistic sensitivity. Cymraeg is our national language, and action is needed at regional and local levels to secure its future. Identifying areas of linguistic sensitivity will help to do so. And allow us to tailor our interventions, support and requirements, to suit closely the reality of Cymraeg in different areas. There’s potential here in terms of education, in terms of planning, in terms of economic development—and a range of other areas.
But of course the situation of Welsh is different in Pontarddulais where both I and the Welsh Language Society were born — is different today to what it was in 1962 and again in 1971. But it’s also different to the situation in the Swansea Valley where I went to school and where I live — and it’s different again in the Cynon Valley, Newport, Newtown and Drefach.
So Cymraeg belongs to our communities. Cymraeg belongs to us all. But let me be crystal clear: so too does the responsibility for its future.
In all aspects of our work across the Welsh Government, across all government in Wales and beyond, we’ll have to be brave and tackle difficult issues together. I’m sure some of the things the Commission will tell us will be challenging but that’s the thing: that’s what will help us find the most effective solutions!
In that respect, too, the Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan is for our local authorities, and our communities to own and to lead on—with us at the Welsh Government of course.
But it’s about more than just us at the Welsh Government.
I expect everyone to take a lead and I expect everyone to be proactive.
I started by saying that I was very worried about our Welsh-speaking communities. We’ve introduced all this work I’ve talked about to contribute to preventing their decline. The work is innovative within the UK context and beyond. I also mentioned that neither I nor the Welsh Government have a monopoly on good ideas. So do you think what I’ve outlined is enough?
What else can we do to ensure success? Are there things afoot in your corner of Wales which we can learn from?
To say that Cymraeg 2050 is ambitious is now almost a cliché. But on one level you could say that it’s not—challenging though it is—that it’s not enough. That is, success in the long term is not just all about the numbers. Numbers and percentage can tell a very different story. Geography’s also important. Ask our friends in Ireland, for example.
We simply must protect our Welsh-speaking communities for the future in order to realise the ambitions of Cymraeg 2050. We simply must protect our Welsh-speaking areas to support the growth of Cymraeg.
Cymraeg belongs to us all, my friends. And ultimately, belongs to every community as well.