Only very rich can afford to buy or rent and it will affect employment, tourism expert warns
The north Antrim coast is no longer a place where “hard working people” can afford property or holidays.
Local politicians believe the area in and around Portrush has become so exorbitantly expensive it has priced out all but the elite few, while a tourism expert said the cost of property may even become a barrier to workers who are essential to keep the area’s economy buoyant.
Following a special Belfast Telegraph investigation into what has been dubbed ‘Costa del North Coast’, Councillor Philip Anderson said he believes the area has become “the preserve of the rich”.
Our research into Northern Ireland’s most popular holiday hotspot found private caravan parks that cost at least £40,000 to get into, as well as council-owned parks where a site alone could cost up to £30,000.
It also emerged that half the holiday properties are already booked up for next summer — despite some costing well over £5,000 a week to rent — and we found three-bedroom apartments with an asking price of nearly half a million pounds.
Mr Anderson, a DUP Causeway Coast and Glens Borough councillor, said ordinary people are being priced out of the market.
“Prices went up when the Open Championship was held here two years ago, and they didn’t come down afterwards,” he said.
“And now that the Open is coming back to Portrush in 2025, I can’t see that changing any time soon.
“People who couldn’t afford to go abroad used to come here, but now they can’t even do that. The character of the place is changing.”
Mr Anderson added: “It has evolved into a new exclusive market for people with plenty of money. It’s not for the ordinary person. These are not caravans, they’re luxury mobile homes.”
The spotlight on prices turned to the north coast after the Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed last month that tenants of Golflinks Holiday Homes were refusing to accept a 30% hike in annual pitch fees.
At Blair’s Holiday Parks — where there have been no complaints about pitch fees on any of the company’s three north coast sites — general manager Ben Wallace said owning a caravan isn’t cheap.
He explained that it’s normal policy at privately owned parks in the UK for customers to buy the caravans off the site owners.
Currently, the cheapest new one on Blair’s website is £40,000 with another, more luxurious one fetching nearly £64,000.
Despite this, however, there is no shortage of customers.
“We have only three new caravans and one second-hand one for sale at the moment,” he said.
“Normally there would be 30 or 40 on our website, but the industry has been weird over the past two years with lockdown.
“Suddenly, everyone either wanted a house or a caravan on the north coast.”
The second-hand caravan he referred to, which is two or three years old, costs £36,000.
And Mr Wallace added: “I only have two sites available —and I don’t expect them to hang around for long”.
He said the stereotype that “caravan owners were not very well off” is “massively wrong”.
He added: “If you can afford to buy a second hand or new caravan you are not poor.”
Mr Wallace also said: “You can’t beat the north coast. The beaches, the restaurants, the cafes, the people… it’s hard to find such quality anywhere else.”
Perhaps that explains why there’s a huge waiting list of around two years for some sites.
Council-run caravan sites in Portrush and Portstewart have introduced ‘blind bids’, it can be revealed, with customers understood to be paying up to £30,000 for the site alone.
“You then need to buy a caravan, pay fees to have it set up on site (£3.5k to £6.5k) — and then there’s pitch fees on top.
“All that before you’ve set foot in the caravan,” said an industry source.
Due to “commercial sensitivities”, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council declined to comment on blind bids, whereby anyone interested in obtaining a caravan site makes an offer that is not publicly disclosed. The highest bidder wins.
It did, however, confirm a sustained interest in posh camping, with 28 applications for so-called ‘glamping pods’ in the area between 2018 and now.
A spokesperson for the council added: “The popularity of all of our Holiday and Leisure Parks has never been greater, and this includes static caravans, touring pitches, glamping pods and camping.”
Meanwhile, anyone looking for a bricks and mortar property on the north coast will come across some eye watering prices, such as nearly half a million pounds for a three-bedroom apartment in Portrush.
And if you’re looking for a short-term rental for the summer, be prepared to shell out a four-figure sum for each week of your stay.
Airbnb even has five-bedroom houses available for over £7,000 a week — and a four-bedroom one in nearby Coleraine for a jaw-dropping £12,230 if you want it for a week in July.
Estate agent Clara Hutton from North Coast Property Management said houses and holiday homes are “flying off the market”.
“At present there’s a shortage of permanent homes,” she said, adding that “half the holiday properties in Portrush and Portstweart are already booked up” for next summer, despite rising prices.
“What would’ve cost £475 a week in a basic three-bedroom house is now around £600, whereas higher spec property would set you back between £1,000 and £2,500,” she said.
Ms Hutton also said she’d already had enquiries from people wanting to book property for The Open in 2025.
Dr Peter Bolan, Director for International Travel and Tourism Management at Ulster University, who lives in the Portrush area, said the market is being driven by well-off second home owners.
“There’s been explosion of activity in the area, which is great for tourism and the local economy,” he said. “Working class families by and large can’t afford to purchase a caravan and keep it running. There is a worry, though, that people who’re actually needed for certain jobs mightn’t be able to afford to live in the area or live 30 miles away and commute because they’ve been priced out of the market.”