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‘Prince William Is Part of the Problem’: Plan for 24 New Homes for Homeless Dubbed ‘Drop in the Ocean’ in Cornwall Amid Mounting Crisis

Activists in Cornwall say the scheme – while welcome – will barely touch the sides as 23,000 languish on a council waiting list

Prince William is in charge of the Duchy of Cornwall, which owns thousands of acres of land in Cornwall and across England. Photo: Phil Rees/Alamy

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Cornish councillors and activists have warned that plans by the £1 billion Duchy of Cornwall estate – now controlled by Prince William – to build 24 homes for homeless people on Crown land will make little dent in a housing crisis that has left 23,000 people waiting for a council home. 

Working with homeless charity St Petrocs, the Duke of Cornwall has pledged to spend £3 million to build homes due to be ready next year for homeless people to move into. 

Cornwall Council Labour group Leader Jayne Kirkham welcomed the scheme but told Byline Times that it represents a drop in the ocean to tackle the issue.

“Obviously we need something more systemic than a project like this,” she said. “It’s a huge problem. We are struggling all across Cornwall. I’ve seen many families evicted from their private rented accommodation and having to live in caravans. It affects the kids’ schools, and parents’ jobs.” 

Coastal Cornwall has a persistent issue with thousands of unregulated holiday lets and (often empty) second homes vastly outnumbering the number of homes available for rent. 

AirBnb listings show that, as of 20 February 2024, there are 976 ‘entire homes’ available as short-term holiday lets in Cornwall for more than £240 a night. 

Yet there are just 348 homes currently available for general private rent in the entire county listed on RightMove. Another site, OpenRent, lists 117; while OnTheMarket lists 145. Cornwall has a population of 570,000 people. 

Don’t miss a story

AirBnb ‘entire home’ holiday let listings for Cornwall, more than £240 a night (there are thousands when listings under £240 a night are included)

RightMove private rental listings for Cornwall

Councillor Kirkham provided the example of a primary school headteacher from outside of the county who took up a job in Cornwall but couldn’t find a place to live. 

“People come down, accept jobs, and then they end up having to reject the job because they can’t find anywhere to live within their price range – or anything at all because things are just going so quickly,” she told this newspaper.

“The private rented sector is tiny, but there are thousands of holiday lets that are incredibly expensive. It’s very difficult to find anything affordable.”

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove has announced plans for reform that would require new long-term holiday lets to have to apply for a change of use to take them out of the wider rental market. But this would not apply to the thousands of holiday lets already in the system and is unlikely to impact the issue of second homes that sit empty while owners live in their main residences outside of the county. 

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Former Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, Andrew George, now runs a housing charity in Cornwall, which has previously worked with the Duchy estate. He told Byline Times that Prince William’s project was “nibbling away at the edges, but that’s what we’re all doing”.

“Since 1960, Cornwall’s housing stock has almost tripled,” he said. “It’s one of the fastest growing places in the United Kingdom, yet the housing problems of locals have gotten significantly worse. So Cornwall disproves the rather two-dimensional kindergarten economics argument that said it’s a simple relationship between demand and supply.”

He suggests that a radical shift in housebuilding is required – a complete halt on developments focused on local need for affordable housing: “It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way of building affordable homes is to stop all development, and then to have an exceptions policy. In other words, to say that that land will never be developed, but if it’s to meet demonstrable need, we’ll make an exception.” 

On Gove’s reforms, George is sceptical: “They promised to do these things six or seven years ago. They actually haven’t done anything. All you’ve got is the umpteenth announcement of exactly the same thing that they have promised.” 

Not Just a Numbers Game

Lib Dem Councillor Thalia Marrington represents Mousehole and Newlyn, fishing communities which appear deserted at certain times due to the prevalence of second homes and holiday lets.

“You can never build enough because people want to move ‘down to lovely Cornwall’,” she told Byline Times. “But we have such a massive crisis. There are roughly 23,000 on the housing waiting list in Cornwall. When you’re talking about 24 homes… As soon as you hear ‘24’ you don’t look into it too much more, because it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“There are already around 800 households in emergency temporary accommodation here… Yet we’ve got thousands of AirBnbs and second homes in Cornwall, so you’ve got so much [housing] stock gone.” 

Many holiday lets are classed as “furnished holiday lettings” (FHLs) and receive Capital Gains Tax relief and Small Business Rate Relief – effectively Government subsidies. Councillor Marrington says the lost business rates have cost councils hundreds of millions in lost revenue over several decades. 


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But she is critical of the push to build more housing of any kind.

“It’s all wrong housing – it’s houses with five bedrooms,” she said. “It’s not going to help the housing crisis… There seems to be the blanket approach that any housebuilding is good because they’re all sold, that stock is ‘trickling down’ [to locals]. It’s the opposite.” 

But some locals object to new affordable housing when it is built near them, she added.

“I haven’t had a second term so [I am] playing with fire to a certain degree, [but] sometimes you don’t hear from the quieter voices. If you go to a planning committee, you’ll hear all the objections… You’re not hearing from the 800 stuck in temporary accommodation here.”

Many of those will have been evicted at short notice by landlords swapping regulated private rented accommodation for unregulated holiday lettings. She notes that the Government has said for the past five years that it will ban no-fault evictions, but this has still not happened. 

The Lib Dem councillor, who is an MP hopeful, also wants to see a tourist tax to fund new social housing – something else not addressed in Gove’s latest reform plans. It is also not mentioned in the latest ‘thin’ devolution deal handed to Cornwall. (A stronger devolution package fell apart amid council opposition to having a new elected mayor).

And while AirBnb has been a focus nationally on housing, second homes that sit empty are sometimes seen as a bigger problem in Cornwall. 

“If people are only down for a tiny part of the year, those houses are actually having the most impact negatively, because they’re not spending on tourism, and going out to restaurants and all those sorts of things,” she added. “At least with holiday lets people are consistently around spending on hospitality.”

In some ways, she told Byline Times, the “horse has bolted” in terms of the Government fixing these systemic issues. 

Good Publicity

Meanwhile, republican campaigners have called out reports that the Duchy of Cornwall is investing in affordable housing as “more spin than substance”.

Anti-monarchy campaign group Republic points out that the Duchy estate is not Prince William’s personal property but that of the Crown. It is, in effect, gifted by Parliament to the heir who is the eldest son of the monarch.  

The Duchy estate may expect to make profit from the homes, which will at any rate remain its asset, rather than being ‘donated’ to St Petrocs. 

Graham Smith, Republic CEO, said: “The country will spend at least £3.4 billion on the monarchy over the next decade. That’s money that could be invested in homes for those who most need them, instead of two dozen palatial homes for one family.” 


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Prince William takes around £22 million a year in private income from the Duchy, representing most of the Crown company’s annual ‘surplus’. 

The value of the Duchy estate rose by nearly £25 million in the year to 2023 solely from the value of its land increasing, without any action on the owners’ parts. 

The £3 million to be spent on new homes for the homeless amounts to 14% of the Duchy’s profit in the year to 2023, though a far smaller fraction of its circa £1 billion net value. 

Smith argues that Prince William is “part of the problem”.

“Rather than be thankful for a few homes built on Duchy land, which William will profit from, we all need to be demanding the return of the Duchy to full public ownership and an end to the monarchy,” he told this newspaper.

Whatever side of the monarchy debate locals sit on, Councillor Marrington shares an experience all political representatives in Cornwall have had.

“You get a call from somebody saying ‘I really don’t want to call and say this but I don’t know what to do’,” she said. “A family calls me from Newlyn and says ‘we’re being evicted in two weeks’. And it’s really hard. That’s the reality of it.”

All six parliamentary seats in Cornwall are currently represented by Conservatives. But both the Lib Dems and Labour are hoping to take several in this year’s general election. 

How Much Land the Duchy of Cornwall Owns  

CountyArea (Hectares)
Isles of Scilly1,606.40
Vale of Glamorgan19.6
Greater London10.1
West Midlands1.7
Source: The Duchy of Cornwall’s 2023 annual report

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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