08 Nov 2021

Wales: no going back – but where next?

The Senedd election in May and subsequent programme for government has provided the space for fresh ambition around housing policy in Wales. When we consider efforts needed to support a COVID-19 recovery alongside the longer-term issues that interact with housing policy (such as poverty), and the need to realise the Senedd’s lofty ambitions for housing supply and to address climate change – there are challenges aplenty.

Following the election, the Welsh Government (WG) focussed firmly on climate change, with minister Julie James fronting a large portfolio which includes housing. A target to build 20,000 low carbon social homes headlined the housing commitments – flanked by a range of other housing-related promises, including a timber-based industrial strategy, decarbonisation of existing homes and a Welsh language community housing plan.

Another area the WG prioritised was second homes. This flowed from a wide-ranging research report in March 2021, followed by public outcry and political pressure in some areas. The minister announced a ‘three pronged’ approach encompassing action on housing affordability, a regulatory framework including planning measures and a new holiday accommodation registration scheme with enhanced taxation powers for local authorities.

The minister promised to maintain the progress made with housing homeless people. Despite that wish and extra funding in August 2020, there was some evidence of an increase in rough sleeping during the winter months. At the end of May 2021, there were 6,383 individuals in temporary accommodation (including 1,394 dependent children under 16).

Performance on the delivery of affordable homes has continued to gain pace – 2019/20 saw 2,942 affordable homes delivered – bringing the total to 19,000 over four years, with another year of delivery still to be reported. If the projection for 2020/21 is realised that could see an unprecedented 4,000 homes delivered, easily surpassing the 20,000 affordable housing target (see chart), although caution is appropriate in relying on these forward projections. In 2021/22 WG investment will reach £250 million, almost four times the amount in 2015/16.

Additional affordable housing in Wales to 2020/21
Source: Welsh Government affordable housing supply statistics.

Decarbonisation continues to anchor the ambition of the sector in building new social housing at an accelerated pace. A stark analysis for the Future Generations Commissioner indicated that £15 billion (of which social housing’s share is £5.5 billion) would need to be spent to retrofit the Welsh housing stock over this decade. The WG Optimised Retrofit Programme budget is £19.5 million for 2020/21, putting a huge funding responsibility on the social sector unless the budget is rapidly increased.

Building safety remains a prominent area of activity, resulting in the WG’s Safer Buildings in Wales white paper. It included pauses in the building process, with the ability to proceed contingent on the right evidence being produced; clearer responsibilities for ensuring and maintaining safety measures, and making greater use of tenant insights and expertise.

Providing greater security of tenure has been a feature of the temporary measures introduced during the pandemic, imposing a virtual ban on evictions. More permanent measures are included in the Renting Homes (Wales) (Amendment) Bill, including an increase in the notice landlords must give tenants in the case of a ‘no fault’ eviction from two to six months – and introducing the condition that landlords cannot serve such a notice in the first six months of a tenancy.

Finally, the WG published its race equality action plan (An Anti-Racist Wales). The plan includes housing as a priority area - from the representation of ethnic minority people on boards and at senior management levels within housing organisations through to addressing housing conditions – such as overcrowding – that disproportionately impact black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

This article is based on one for the CIH’s UK Housing Review. You can download the 2021 UK Housing Review Autumn Briefing Paper. 

Written by Matthew Kennedy

Matthew Kennedy is the policy and public affairs manager in CIH Cymru.