‘It’s a lovely place but we can’t afford to live here’

1 day ago

By Johnny O’SheaBBC News, in St Ives

BBC Shot from above St IvesBBC

About 540,000 day-trippers visit the town every year, according to the St Ives Tourism Association

The Cornish seaside town of St Ives attracts thousands of visitors, drawn each year to its beautiful beaches and thriving art scene. But for those who live and work here, ordinary life in a tourist hotspot brings huge challenges they are demanding politicians address.

“It’s a lovely place to be… but I don’t think I will ever be a homeowner.”

Ben Hodgkinson is busy scanning the harbour in the midday sun, trying to catch the eye of passers-by and sell them tickets for boat trips to see seals and dolphins.

The 32-year-old has lived in St Ives his whole life, and like many people here relies on tourists for his livelihood.

There is a gentle bustle in the air as visitors take in the golden sands and turquoise seas – “it has been a bit quiet today, but it will pick up”, he says.

Ben thinks he knows which way he will vote, but says he has not been entirely convinced by what he has heard so far.

“Making housing affordable would be the number one challenge here.

“Local jobs are in short supply and wages are terrible.”

Ben Hodgkinson

Ben Hodgkinson says “making housing affordable would be the number one challenge” in St Ives

According to the St Ives Tourism Association, the town has the second highest visitor-related spend in the UK, topping £85m a year.

It has 540,000 day-trippers and 220,000 staying visitors a year.

“Tourism is a blessing and a curse,” says Ben.

“We wouldn’t be anywhere without tourism, but it pushes the prices up.

“It is a lovely place to be but lots of people can’t afford to stay here to live.”

A study by the University of Exeter in November 2022 calculated a gap of £229,878 between the amount the average earner could borrow and the average price of a flat in the town.

In 2016, St Ives voted to ban the sale of new builds to second home buyers, but research by the London School of Economics in 2019 concluded this only served to increase demand on existing homes and push up rental prices.

St Ives

The St Ives constituency is the most south-westerly in the UK

Beside Ben on the harbourfront is George Sanders.

The 25-year-old owns a flat in St Ives, but says he works 90 to 100 hours a week – boat-tripping by day, taxi-driving by night – with two children at home.

“I will be voting – it’s good to have a say,” he says.

“Hopefully whoever gets in will bring more tourism down here, reduce the cost of living and make it easier for locals to get housing.”

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The St Ives constituency covers a largely rural area, with the other significant towns being Penzance and Helston.

It also contains the Isles of Scilly, where votes from the islands will be collected by boat before being counted, often making it one of the last constituencies to declare a winner.

The seat is currently held by the Conservatives, but with a majority of 4,280 in the 2019 general election, it is regarded as marginal.

The constituency has been a battleground between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who have it near the top of their list of target seats having held it from 1997 to 2015.

Sarah Llewellyn

Sarah Llewellyn manages a shop that sells homemade flapjacks

Behind the harbour in St Ives is the narrow, pretty Fore Street. Shoppers here are browsing stores, including those selling an array of local produce from pasties to fudge to ice cream.

Packing gift bags of flapjacks behind one counter is Sarah Llewellyn.

She moved to St Ives six months ago “for nourishment, not punishment” and is delighted with her life-choice.

“I feel very lucky – I have a fabulous rental, and a fabulous job.”

On politics, she is less enthusiastic.

“We are living the nightmare with the cost of living, heating, food, rent and everything else,” says Sarah.

“Even with a job I love, and a good salary I am happy with, it is very tight to afford everything.”

The former continuity announcer has a son at university and wants more clarity from politicians.

“We don’t need big ideas, we just need the small stuff done right,” she adds.

Nick Gould

Nick Gould feels young people need more help from politicians

A little further along the street, plastering the hallway of the property that has been his wife’s family home since 1895, pensioner Nick Gould is feeling disillusioned.

“I remember back to the 1958 election and have followed every one avidly, but I don’t see the point in this one – that’s how bad the country is,” he says.

“The political system is shot – look at the NHS, the postmasters’ scandal, the sewage – it is a broken country.”

Nick also raises the issue of housing and cost of living.

“There are big issues across Cornwall with housing, and they are especially acute here.

“There needs to be a huge effort for young people. And the cost of childcare is so high.

“Running a life between 25 and 50 years old is so hard now and they need help.”

‘Fiddling while Rome burns’

Liz Watson is sitting behind the desk of the St Ives community land trust where she volunteers.

She feels engaged with the election and will be voting, but has “absolutely no idea what they will do”.

“There is just no vision. We are fiddling around while Rome burns and I find it extremely frustrating,” she says.

Liz lists the issues concerning her as poverty, the care system, skewed property prices and climate change.

“There is nothing to choose between,” she says.

“If it was a garden it would be nice to choose between a nice oak and a silver birch.

“But we’ve just got a few weeds.”

Liz Watson

Liz Watson volunteers at a community land trust

Full list of candidates for the St Ives constituency:

  • Filson Ali – Labour
  • Ian Flindall – Green
  • Andrew George – Liberal Democrats
  • John Harris – The Common People
  • Dave Laity – Independent
  • Giane Mortimer – Reform UK
  • Paul Nicholson – Liberal
  • Jason Saunders – UK Independence Party
  • Derek Thomas – Conservative

You can use the BBC News lookup tool to find out which constituency you are in, who is standing as a candidate in your area and which polling station you can vote at.

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