Welsh housing minister wants to use social homes to access cash
Huw Lewis: private investment plans back on
The new Welsh housing minister is to hold talks about resurrecting plans to set up a housing trust to pump private money into the social housing sector.
Speaking to Inside Housing in his first interview since landing the job, Huw Lewis, who was appointed last week following Labour’s victory in the Welsh elections, said plans for a Welsh Housing Investment Trust were ‘not dead yet’.
Umbrella group Community Housing Cymru received £178,000 in May last year to develop the trust. It hoped to lever in private sector cash from the capital markets by using existing tenanted homes to borrow against.
But in December, the Welsh Assembly Government - at the time a coalition of Labour and Plaid Cymru - shelved the plans after the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru said the proposals lacked support from housing associations and could impact negatively on tenants’ rights and interests in the event of a transfer.
Claiming the trust was ‘not dead yet’, Mr Lewis said would hold ‘political discussions’ about its future.
He also criticised decisions made by the coalition government in Westminster to reform housing benefit. ‘I’m worried that the changes that the Westminster government is putting through will be a stick to beat people with and we don’t do that in Wales… there are people who are going to be pushed over the edge,’ he said.
He confirmed that the Welsh Assembly Government would look at using public land to deliver affordable housing, and said he would also talk to charities and private landowners to find suitable plots. ‘There are 26,000 empty homes in Wales which is enough for two years’ supply of housing,’ he said. ‘We’re also looking at community land trust and co-operative models which we don’t have in Wales at the moment. The co-operative model does depend on an innovative use of land.’
Nick Bennett, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, said: ‘We look forward to working with the minister to extend the delivery of not-for-profit solutions for housing, regeneration and care.’
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, newly appointed social development minster Nelson McCausland will take on the housing portfolio. Democratic Unionist Party MP Mr McCausland was previously the minster for culture, arts and leisure.
The change came as The Northern Ireland Housing Executive on Tuesday appointed Dr John McPeake as its new chief executive. Dr McPeake started at the NIHE as a graduate trainee in 1982, and has been acting deputy chief executive and the director responsible for housing and regeneration. He is also a tutor in the planning school at the University of Ulster.
He replaces Paddy McIntyre, who left at the start of the year.
Scottish housing minister Alex Neil continues to hold his position until Scotland’s new cabinet is announced next week.