Salcombe is Britain’s most expensive coastal town – and also its worst

Salcombe Devon
'Salcombe is sustained by a population of just 2,000, despite having approximately 25,000 visitors at any time during each high season' - Thomas Faull/E+

Salcombe is horrible. There, I said it.

As a Devonian, who grew up spending evenings and weekends at beaches ranging from Exmouth and Sidmouth to Teignmouth, I am well acquainted with a coastline that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

A trip home for me is not complete without a stop at the beach – and of course, fish and chips only tastes right if it is eaten within sight of the sea. I know firsthand the charm of a seaside town, as well as the challenges of coming from one.

Salcombe may have retained its title as the most expensive place in the country to own a coastal home, with an average house price of more than £970,000, according to analysis of Land Registry data by Lloyds.

A tiny beachfront coffee kiosk across the harbour, not even the size of a standard double garage, is for sale for £1.5m.

But don’t be fooled: Salcombe is soulless and empty. Just a beautiful facade and some very expensive ice cream shops, not to mention that knee-killer hill.

No amount of crystal clear water can give a hollow place a sense of community. The South West is riddled with places that have lost their locals and Salcombe might be the worst of them all.

It is sustained by a population of just 2,000, despite having approximately 25,000 visitors at any time during each high season. Almost a third of homes are holiday homes, according to research by Devon’s Housing Commission.

Its primary school can admit just 12 children into reception each year, there are only two convenience shops and one ATM.

The arrival of each new grockle (Google it) is another blow to the town’s sense of being. It’s no wonder that councils in East Devon and Cornwall are taking full advantage of their new ability to raise council tax on second homes by 100pc.

While second home owners lament the introduction of an extra tax, coastal communities will mourn the funding which will inevitably disappear into a council blackhole.

The money could be used to finance innovative housing projects – such as in Looe, in Cornwall, where a community group is renovating a Grade-II listed apartment block to rent out to locals.

Housing services and the renovators will decide who gets to move in, and will give priority to the fishermen, firefighters and hospitality workers who keep the town running. A similar project in nearby Millbrook renovated cottages that are let out for £520 a month.

But it seems that most of the extra cash squeezed from second home owners will go to the budgets of Police and Crime Commissioners.

In Tewkesbury, just £38,025 is expected to go into the council’s coffers – 7pc of the £543,226 raised. The rest will go to Gloucestershire County Council and the PCC. North Devon council expects to claim just 10pc of the £4.2m the additional levy will raise in the region.

Salcombe may not be able to get its locals back. But there could be a way to stop other towns ending up as soulless.