A National Trust property that was featured in Harry Potter films has been accused of being a ‘dying settlement’ where homes are empty.
Lacock in Chippenham, Wiltshire, is on the ‘must-see’ list for millions of tourists who flock from all over the world to walk around the ancient ‘Hogwarts’ abbey and peer along its streets that appeared in TV costume dramas such as Downton Abbey, Wolf Hall and Cranford.
The Trust rents the houses out, but the Village has fallen apart, and more than 12 homes have remained empty over the years according to a resident who has been there for many decades.
According to the tenant who declined to give his name, he said that Lacock was a dying village after several of its elderly residents died. It is possible that there are more than 12 vacant properties.
“It is sad, because Lacock is an extremely unique village. The houses will rack and ruin. Some have been vacant for over two years.
Lacock is located in Chippenham in Wiltshire and has been a’must-see” destination for many tourists. They come from all walks of the globe to visit the ancient Hogwarts Abbey.
Pictured are Daniel Radcliffe playing Harry Potter, and Michael Gambon portraying Dumbledore.
Lacock was a prominent character in many period dramas, such as Pride and Prejudice.
The Trust rents the homes, but the Village has fallen apart. According to one resident who has been there for many decades, more than 12 houses have sat vacant for over a decade. Lacock is the location of Downton Abbey’s filming.
Pictured is the Downton Abbey cast filming scenes at Lacock in Chippenham in Wiltshire
Village rents range from £750 to £3,000 a month, but Ian Wilson, the National Trust’s assistant director of operations, said: ‘We don’t have a problem. We are often oversubscribed when we rent properties.
It is not a good idea to leave these old homes empty as they can get damp. As with all houses, they get damp if there is no heat. There isn’t double glazing or similar in our area.
“We’re told people have to live in houses but it has become too costly for ordinary people. This is very disappointing.
“There’s a lot of anger in Lacock, and not just against the National Trust, but their policies.
The elderly woman, now in her 70s fears that The National Trust is charging too much for rent. The Trust has 90 Lacock properties and houses around 460 people.
“It is a unique housing environment that everyone would love to have because I’ve never seen it before.”
“It is sad, because there aren’t any younger people coming in. Mortgages can be purchased for less than they currently pay.
‘I mean £1,500 for a house in the village but you can’t park outside. That is a huge amount of money.
In fact, village rents range from £750 to £3,000 a month, but Ian Wilson, the National Trust’s assistant director of operations, said: ‘We don’t have a problem. Our properties are usually over-subscribed whenever we send them out for letting.
Actors Imelda Staunton, Dame Judi and Judi Dench walk down Lacock High Street. The street had been converted for a night shoot on the BBC’s period drama Cranford.
The Trust typically invests between £250,000 and £300,000 a year in maintaining and refurbishing its properties in Lacock, Mr Wilson said
As Lacock High Street gets transformed into a BBC period drama called Cranford, a police officer observes.
Jane Durrant, chairwoman of the Lacock Parish Council said that she had been pressing hard for this. They’re investing in properties, and getting them on the market as fast as possible.
He said that the trust was able to ‘turn around properties as fast as possible’ due to the many challenges involved in the management of historic homes and additional costs associated Covid.
According to him, nine homes are now vacant and four have been let by the trust.
He stated that the Trust was ‘about two more’ and “will offer another two or three” in the New Years.
The Trust typically invests between £250,000 and £300,000 a year in maintaining and refurbishing its properties in Lacock, Mr Wilson said.
He also said that Covid had left an additional legacy. The pandemic has made it impossible to keep and renovate the properties.
We did not put our investment programmes on hold because we are a charity. Our focus was on the properties that people live in.
“The Lacock property with the longest vacant period has been unoccupied for 18 months. Rest of the properties have been empty for 6-12 months. This is basically during the Covid period.
Jane Durrant is the chairwoman of Lacock Parish Council. She stated that they have worked hard to get National Trust involved in this matter. They’re investing in properties, and getting them back onto the market as soon as possible.
The National Trust villages were also accused of high rents, empty homes and similar claims in 2018. In 2018 six National Trust properties were reported to have been empty.
The Trust claimed it tried to find tenants “with a local connection” but was accused of making rents unaffordable for families. One villager described the negative impact on their close knit community.
“Two” have been recently renovated and are being rented out. People should move in by the new year.
Some properties will require significant work and investment in order to reach the required standards. This includes energy efficiency, and other such things.
“The National Trust has limited resources, so they are slowly working on it.
“But they certainly have plans in place to deal with those properties. Some of them need over £100,000 to be spent on them.’
One user on local social media said that tourists peering in the windows was enough to make anyone want to live there.
Another wrote, “The NT has been forced by the Charity Commission not only in Lacock but on all its properties to collect market rents. Is it worth the cost to own a cottage of character with period-style features?
It is in an unwritten straitjacket as it is not allowed to make any changes to the listed buildings under its care.
We don’t want to live in draughty single-glazed casement windows from the 17th century and pay huge heating costs. When we can have modern homes for much more, who wants to be stuck with old, cold, drafty home?
It’s possible that some people would like to spend their lives in a museum, although it is unlikely.
NT cannot win – the house can’t be let down easily. However, it’s not permitted to improve them in order to make them more livable.
Similar claims regarding empty houses and high rents in National Trust villages were also made in 2018. In 2018, six National Trust homes were reported empty.
Although the Trust stated that they were trying to find tenants “with a local connection”, it came under fire for claiming rents were out-of-reach for families. A villager who has lived in the area for many years described how it had impacted the tight-knit community.
Their response was: “I believe the National Trust should have been a little more thoughtful about rents because we get our lives disrupted.”
“Once there was just a summer influx, it has become all year long. They don’t realize that people live there. It is almost like one of those tourist villages.
“What they’re charging is ridiculous and is negatively impacting the village with so many vacant houses. It is not the right intention to rent houses for 6 months.
“Lacock wasn’t given to National Trust because of that, but she (Matilda Talbot), gave it because she wanted to keep it the same as it was and make it a community.
Matilda Talbot inherited Lacock in 1916 and was thought to be aware of the responsibilities she had towards those who lived or worked on Lacock Estate.
She sold some of her abbey collections during times of distress to help improve the houses of her Lacock Village tenants. The National Trust received the estate in 1944.
“The Trust do not own it, they are custodians.” The villager continued: It is a mystery why so many houses remain empty when one has been vacant for over a year.
Local families are unable to afford rent them. It is worrying to watch them go empty. The village will not be able to support families if it does not have them.
At the time, in 2018, one National Trust three-bedroom home was available for rent and advertised on Rightmove at £760 per calendar month.
In 2018, a National Trust spokesperson stated that if any National Trust rental property is available, we will post it on Rightmove. Six properties are available in Lacock Village that are currently in refurbishment or in the process to be rented.
“We aim to match homes with suitable tenants. Wherever possible we seek out those who are local, have local connections and have kids at school.
However, conservation charities have to be able to make financial sound decisions in order to continue taking care of all their properties into the future. It is the Trust’s policy to rent out homes at market rates.
This March, the Trust was accused by Lacock Abbey of “falsifying history” with cheap planks.
The basement was used to install what were called bargain boards, made from pine-like softwood, instead of the more expensive oak planks for flooring repair.
In a report, Wiltshire Council planners stated that oak boards not being used “falsifies history of the flooring”.
After it was discovered that the Trust had not received council approval for work to replace rotten floorboards, it became even worse. The Trust had to request retrospective planning permission.
According to the council planners, “The replacement method rather than other types of repairs such as double-up has led to more historical fabric being lost than is necessary.”
Reclaimed wood is a false history and it should not be used for flooring.
According to the report, “Had these propositions been submitted before works were carried out they wouldn’t have been supported in such form.”
“Unfortunately the work is already complete, with the timber of the 20th century being lost and some timber taken from buildings nearby.
With a hint at resignation, they said: “In this particular instance, the work will not be rejected and consent to its retention granted.”
They warned that it would not occur with any future restoration or repair work submitted to Lacock Abbey.
According to A Trust spokesperson, the work was minor and did not require consent.
“But the truth is that we were more surprised at how rotten the floor was and the need to have it replaced.
“We talked to local council planners, and were requested to submit a retrospective application. This has been approved.
“We are always open to receiving advice from the local council conservation officers during planning approval.”