From valley to vale
Wales needs to build 14,200 homes a year to meet urgent housing demand. Nick Duxbury kicks off our Wales special by finding out what’s holding it back
As in the rest of the UK, Wales is in crisis - of the housing variety. The country has a fundamental shortage of homes at a time of growing need among its 3 million inhabitants.
Research commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government suggests that Wales needs to build a massive 14,200 homes a year until 2026. Factor in a national social housing waiting list of around 90,000 people, and it is clear that Wales needs new homes - and fast.
The good news is that Wales has lots of land with development potential - and the majority of it is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government and the country’s 22 local authorities. The bad news is that there are also a lot of hurdles holding back landowners from bringing sites forward for development. That’s why we need your help.
Tackling the problem
In its 2011 housing pact with the Welsh Assembly Government the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru has called for a cross-sector national housing delivery plan for Wales to address the housing shortage. Key to this plan is releasing land for development - a cause that Inside Housing is championing through its Get on our Land campaign. We are calling on councils across the UK to identify all surplus public assets and land in their areas, including those suitable for housing development, and encourage private landowners to bring sites forward.
As part of this effort, we want to work with our readers to produce a charter outlining ways of easing housing land supply throughout the UK.
In Wales, several complications aside from the economy are holding back land for development - many of which relate to the planning system which is considered expensive and slow for landowners. ‘In Wales a lot of people have concerns about the viability and regulatory burden of the planning system which is seen as a barrier to development,’ confirms Victoria Hiscocks, policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru.
At the heart of the planning problem is a perceived disconnect between the Welsh Assembly Government’s ambitions and the councils’ delivery. There are no central targets or central delivery bodies like England’s Homes and Communities Agency to drive development. Thus, it is all on Welsh councils to produce five-year local development plans. However, not all have a five-year housing supply lined up.
‘The planning system is an issue,’ says Richard Price, planning and policy officer at the Home Builders Federation in Wales. ‘We have Welsh Government housing projections which have been done on a local level - with many local authorities not allocating as many houses as they should according to those projections.’
Take well-heeled, conservative run coastal council, Vale of Glamorgan, for instance. During the recession the council, with a population of 124,500 people, saw between 600 and 700 homes built each year, but in the past year this has dropped to an all time low of 65 - and most of those were built by social landlords.
The collapse of the Welsh housing market is mostly responsible for this. But, in a reflection of the difference in attitudes between central and local government, Emma Harvey, operational manager for planning and transportation at Vale of Glamorgan Council, believes that if her authority were to release more land it would be developed - and this is not necessarily something the authority wants.
‘This is a very attractive area to live in so house builders would bite our hands off for any site in the Vale, but we need to be careful to keep the balance, keep it attractive and promote more development elsewhere such as in the valleys,’ she says.
Unfortunately developers’ desire to build does not extend nationally. Around six large-scale house builders operate in Wales, and, according to Gareth Carter, director at property services company Savills, they are only interested in developing homes in a narrow strip between Monmouthshire on the M4 corridor through to Swansea, where there are stronger local economies and higher house prices. Within that area there is very limited land supply - especially constrained by the ‘conventional family housing’ that they want to build.
As a result, local development plans don’t always match market demand - as was the case in the Welsh capital Cardiff, where the council scrapped its local development plan last year after the Planning Inspectorate for Wales criticised it for allocating mostly brownfield land for flats despite the city being saturated with similar units.
Mr Carter says the redrawing of the plan to find land for family housing means a three to four-year wait for sites to come through.
‘If Cardiff can’t get it right there is not a great deal of hope for other local authorities,’ he says, clearly frustrated that the capital city is not setting an example for the rest of the country. ‘Land is so constrained. There is only one site [a 50 acre site owned by the Welsh Assembly Government] that has come through recently in east Cardiff which is being bought by house builder Barratt at a very strong price, which indicates the lack of supply and the presumption that is not going to change any time soon.’
Beyond this high-demand strip, he claims private landowners are still put off bringing sites forward by the costs involved with applications and onerous development conditions. Wales has especially stringent section 106 agreements - partly a result of the paltry £40 million of grant available to housing associations, many of which have no landbanks, for new affordable housing. Added to the costs of paying for demanding affordable housing allocations, taking land through the planning system is expensive, slow, and especially tricky for landowners that have already seen the value of their land fall.
‘The system isn’t encouraging landowners to bring sites forward because they can see problems around viabilities,’ says Mr Carter. ‘The planning system in Wales is always one step behind decisions made centrally. Both the Welsh Assembly and local authorities are running planning policies that are out of sync with the market place. They [the Welsh Assembly] are not proactive enough to realise what is actually happening. As a result, we have problems with land supply in all the major areas.’
Some efforts have been made by the Welsh Assembly to bring its land to market. In 2009 it announced the release of land for affordable housing with an initial tranche of eight sites with capacity for 350 homes at Vaynor in Newtown, Factory Road in Brynmawr, Pirelli in Newport, Llantarnam in Cwmbran, Bro Castle in Bridgend, Ely Farm in Cardiff, Glasdir in Ruthin, and Aston Mead in Ewloe.
But, according the HBF in Wales, these remain undeveloped. ‘In the past we have seen the Welsh Assembly identify sites for affordable housing, but nothing has happened,’ says Mr Price.
‘We can definitely do something about this; national and local government must recognise the need to build more homes. Obviously releasing more land in Wales is part of that.’
To bring new homes to Wales, we need your help with our campaign and want your suggestions for ways to bring more land forward for development. Email the ideas you think should be put to the government to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welsh charter recommendations
The Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru has been calling on the Welsh Assembly government to release more land - and it seems to be making progress.
‘We have asked the Welsh Government to lead by example on this and we are pleased housing minister Huw Lewis has stated his intention to use public land to deliver affordable housing,’ says Victoria Hiscocks, policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru.
Indeed, when Inside Housing spoke to Mr Lewis he said, ‘I am currently looking for innovative solutions to this issue and what might be done with public sector organisations and others to make more sites available.’
As yet, it is unclear what these solutions might be, though.
To help our Get on our Land charter, CIH Cymru has suggested the following points to encourage more land to be brought forward for development:
- For the new Welsh Assembly Government to lead by example by releasing its land for housing
- For the 2007 land release protocol, which transfers Welsh Assembly Government land to housing associations, to be extended to all public bodies in Wales, including local authorities
- Inadequate council planning skills to be tackled by sharing best practice and joint working
- External monitoring of progress on local development plans, including the five-year land supply for housing
- Taking forward the sustainability committee’s recommendations to consider the introduction in planning policy of a presumption in favour of sustainable development
- Training for elected members so they can make informed decisions in line with national planning policy
- To sign up 100 supporting organisations, each committing to do everything they can to increase the supply of land on which to build homes
- To work with our readers to produce a charter outlining ways of easing housing land supply throughout the UK
- To encourage UK councils to identify all surplus public assets in their areas, including those suitable for housing development, in line with imminent guidance from the Communities and Local Government department’s capital and assets pathfinder programme
How to get involved
- Pledge your support for Get on our land by signing our online petition
- Encourage others to do the same, particularly if you are a council driving the strategic housing vision for your area
- Send us your examples of successful schemes so that we can share what works when it comes to bringing difficult sites forward for housing development.