27 Apr 2021

Developing the skills to meet the vision for housing in Wales

The main political parties in Wales have all published ambitious plans to address the housing and homelessness crisis in Wales, a crisis made more acute by the pandemic. Whilst welcoming the ambition, the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru Director, Matt Dicks, asks whether the structural and systemic barriers to meeting that ambition are truly being addressed?

It is the season of electoral promises, just three weeks out from the Senedd elections on May 6:

  • Welsh Labour have committed to building 20,000 new low carbon social homes to rent;
  • Welsh Conservatives want to build 100,000 new homes over the next decade (including 40,000 homes at social rent);
  • Plaid Cymru want to build 50,000 public homes – including 30,000 council houses or other social housing at social rent
  • the Welsh Liberal Democrats 30,000 new homes at social rent; and
  • the Wales Green Party say they will develop 12,000 homes every year to the highest environment standards – with a focus on social housing.

CIH Cymru welcomes and shares the ambitions of all the parties – the home is now more central to our lives than it has ever been given that we have been consigned to them for more than a year due to the pandemic.

We specifically welcome intentions to increase the pace and scale of social housing development– the chronic shortage of which is at the root of our current housing and homelessness crisis.

Something which would focus minds and subsequent resources would be the introduction of a legal right to adequate housing for everyone in Wales. This call has been at the heart of our own manifesto and the subject of a two-year campaign alongside Tai Pawb and Shelter Cymru. If adopted, it could really launch housing up the policy pecking order and we’re pleased to see that so far, three of the parties (Plaid Cymru, Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Wales Green Party) have committed to taking this forward.

Our housing system wasn’t fit for purpose to meet the 21st Century housing requirements of the people of Wales, let alone absorb the demands placed on it by a global health emergency.

The valiant and tireless efforts of housing professionals across Wales ensured that “everyone was in” during the lockdown periods.

But it’s going to take a monumental effort, backed by large amounts of public investment, if we are going to supply these 5,000 people with sustainable housing so that they don’t return to the streets or a friend’s sofa – and quite simply that means many more homes at social rent alongside well-funded, accessible support services.

So with that house building challenges given some context, it’s worth reflecting on what’s been achieved during this parliamentary term (2016-21).

The Welsh Labour Government is on course to meet its target of 20,000 new affordable homes (a mix of social and intermediate rent, and subsidised home ownership) which is almost double the number completed between 2011-16

But in the first three years of the Parliament, 2016-19, the total number of homes completed (of all types and tenures) was only 19,270 and of those, 7,454 were affordable or social housing.

And I am in no way trying to belittle the ambition outlined in the manifestos and pledges but the challenge of scaling-up development to a level that some are talking about is stark, given the current output achieved in recent years.

Despite this, the sector in Wales is ready to meet the challenge; indeed housing associations are committed to building 75,000 new homes by 2036 with 95% of that investment being spent in Wales. And many of the stock-retaining councils are already increasing the scale and pace of council house development once again.

But even if the levels of investment are there,  questions remain around workforce and supply-chain capacity. So, accompanying those targets we need to see up-front investment into skills and training, linked to creating sustainable, environmentally-friendly homes, whilst taking action to minimise the impact existing homes have on the environment.

That’s why we at CIH Cymru, are calling for the next Welsh Government to work with the sector to create a workforce strategy – which would provide some oversight that we have the right capacity and skills to deliver on these welcome ambitions.

We also need to address other systemic barriers like the availability and cost of land. Higher land prices are fuelled, in part, by the practice of land banking by some developers – where land is held onto for a number of years after it receives planning permission to push up its value.

An arms-length “Land Agency” was recommended by the Welsh Government’s own independent Review into Affordable Housing Supply in 2019 to bring forward more cost-effective public land for housing development but swifter progress is needed on this.

In tandem with that, the planning system needs addressing to cut down on delays that are beyond the developers’ control, but there’s no easy solution when planning departments have seen a 50% reduction in funding, in real terms, since 2008-09. There’s also a need to overhaul the planning system to make it more responsive to housing need.

Aside from the levers that help us deliver more homes, we need to give more careful thought to placemaking – i.e. how places through clever and well-thought-through design enhance the experiences and quality of life of local residents.

For many of us, the pandemic may have changed our own view on what matters most when we think about our home and our local area. For the foreseeable future,  it’s where many of us will now work as well as relax and engage in leisure activities. We need to think beyond the housing targets and integrate those ‘what matters most’ reflections into how we plan and build housing in all its forms.

We believe the start of that journey is the full incorporation of a right to adequate housing into Welsh law which our recent YouGov polling suggests that 73% of us support – that is a hint of the mandate that the next Welsh Government could have to really progress and elevate housing’s role in our own lives and those of our loved ones and local communities.