The 'ghost towns' of Cornwall struggling as the number of permanent residents plummets

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It's no secret that Cornwall is much quieter in the winter but the phrase 'ghost town' is being used often as the number of permanent homes in the Duchy shrinks.

According to the latest census, one home in every eighteen are out of long-term residential use compared to one in nine a decade ago.

In the 2021 data found 34,720 homes are short term lets or second homes.

Ferry skippers say the River Fowey is much darker in the winter months as fewer homes are used Credit: ITV News

One place that has noticed it more acutely than others is Polruan near Fowey where people living there all year round are in the minority.

In 2021, the Lanteglos by Fowey Parish Council went door-to-door and found 48% of permanent residences - that's full time, social housing and long term rentals - lived in Polruan, while 52% of properties were second homes or holiday rentals.

John Adams has lived in the village for 75 years. He says having so fewer people living in the Polruan out of season means the "village is dead, there is no life really at all".

"When you walk down the street in the winter there's hardly any lights on in any of the houses or if you're working on the ferries at night, you don't see hardly any lights on the harbour."

John Adams says this photo of Polruan from the early 1900s shows how many new houses were built on the peninsular Credit: John Adams

It's so quiet that some people who moved into area have made the decision they will look to move back where they came from.

Julie Gibbon and her husband moved into their Airbnb property in Fowey when they retired but have not enjoyed the lifestyle as much in the winter months.

"When I go back to visit my children up in Buckinghamshire, London, I just feel like back in civilisation, it's so quiet."

"I think this place is wonderful as a holiday destination but for me personally, to live here, maybe because we live down town Fowey, it's just too quiet."

Manager Kirsty Tippet says without events like the upcoming Christmas market they would really struggle Credit: ITV News

Businesses say they're "ghostly" quiet compared to the summer months.

The Galleon Inn says in peak season they will serve up to 300 people a day but last weekend they had 30 covers.

General Manager Kirsty Tippett said: "In the summer it's busy. People are almost fighting over tables. In the winter, as you can see, it's pretty quiet."

The pub says it has had to cut back staff hours and closes at least an hour earlier at 10pm.

"We have to plan as much as we can and take as much money as we can in the summer and hope that it's enough to see us through the winter."

JOHNS wine store have not yet been open a full year in Fowey after opening their latest branch in April.

Manager Sam Trewethey says it's hard to know what needs to change to balance out the extremes in business between summer and winter trade."I don't really know what the answer is because a lot of people begrudge like a second home owners but if there's people in the house to use the stuff, then that's not a bad thing, surely?""I think just having a kind of a population that did service itself all year around would be good. The population down here is older now, there's not as many young people because opportunities aren't here for work and stuff. So it's just got to be an ageing, empty part of the country at some point and it's going to be miserable."

In the summer hundreds of people flock the streets of Fowey and visit Polruan over the water Credit: ITV News

According to council tax data, the number of second home owners in Cornwall did drop last year by 153 properties while the number of long term empty homes rose by 300.

Action on Empty Homes who analysed last months's data from the Department for Levelling Up data says regionally the biggest rise was in South West where long-term empties rose 9% to 24,000 - with nearly 3,000 in Cornwall alone.

Director Rebecca Moore, says, “To say this is a national disgrace is a profound understatement.

“After more than a decade of intense housing crisis it is shocking to see long-term empty homes in England rise to over 261,000 – another 12,500 more wasted empties, while over 100,000 families are trapped in Temporary Accommodation, costing the nation over £1.7 billion pounds a year."