Plans to bring 12,000 empty homes back into use and protect SP
Welsh AMs unveil housing reforms
The Welsh Government plans to provide financial incentives to encourage councils to bring up to 12,000 empty homes back into use by 2016.
Welsh housing minister Huw Lewis, speaking exclusively to Inside Housing, following the publication of the Welsh Government’s action plan this week, said the proposal was a ‘starting pistol’ to boost housing supply in Wales. The news comes ahead of the Welsh Government’s 2012/13 draft Budget announcement on Tuesday.
In the first major indication of the Labour-led administration’s plans for housing since its election in May, Mr Lewis said tackling empty homes was one of his ‘main strategic priorities’. This could include a scheme like the English new homes bonus, he said, in which the government matches council tax on each empty property brought into use for the first six years.
‘I’ve been talking to the Welsh Local Government Association and there was agreement that something needs to be done about this. Only a couple of local authorities in Wales are really examples of best practice in this area, and there are going to be expectations of the other 20 local authority areas. I need to look at what carrots and sticks I have to offer. This could make us 10,000 or 12,000 homes better off.’
Homelessness charity Shelter Cymru estimates there are currently 26,000 empty homes in Wales and 91,000 households on council housing waiting lists.
Mr Lewis criticised England’s Supporting People system, which has seen councils raid their SP budgets to shore up other services since the ring fence was removed from the fund in 2009.
‘We’re not going to the English situation, where it’s every man and woman for themselves,’ he said. ‘We’re going to protect SP and it will remain a discrete budget. There will be a new distribution formula based on actual need, because the historical formula isn’t currently reflective of need.’
He also pledged his commitment to find suitable public land for new housing, and said he was in talks with other government departments to identify sites. ‘We want to get people looking at where land is and what might be useable for housing.’
The minister said he was still pursuing talks with central government in Westminster to help councils escape from the housing revenue account system. The HRA has been reformed in England to allow councils to keep their rental income in return for taking on a debt allocation, but remains in place in Wales.
Keith Edwards, director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales, said: ‘We welcome this comprehensive programme which appears to take a whole-system approach to delivering housing solutions - one of CIH Cymru’s longstanding asks of government.’
Nick Bennett, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, said he was disappointed with the lack of a specific target for new homes in the plans.
‘The sector will continue to collaborate with the Welsh Government to create innovative financial solutions,’ he said. ‘A national supply-based target for homes over the next five years is a key component of those discussions.’
Plan of action
- Introduce the Housing Bill
- New empty homes initiative
- Encourage the release of more public land for housing
- Continue to monitor the Welsh housing quality standard
- Keep the Supporting People ring fence but change the way it is calculated