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Innovation, innovation, innovation

The Welsh Government held an Innovative Housing Conference in Cardiff, where SMEs involved in providing materials, innovative designs and ideas to the housing sector exhibited their products and delivered a series of workshops. CIH Cymru Director, Matt Dicks attended and shares his experience.

It was certainly an innovative start to a conference focussed on innovation. Arriving at the registration desk we were asked to fill in our own name tags. An innovative approach indeed, in my conference experience, or maybe just down to cuts in the printing budget at Cathays Park?

Perhaps those savings made it possible for the cabinet secretary to use the event to announce a quadrupling in the Wales Property Development Fund. Of course this is just a bad attempt on my part to inject a bit of humour into this particular blog. In reality, Carl Sargeant’s announcement of an extra £30m for the fund is significant and is a practical demonstration of where his focus is beginning to land in terms of ensuring that his 20,000 affordable homes target is met.

The loan fund, which is run by Finance Wales, supports small and medium sized construction companies, who are unable to access affordable finance from traditional sources, to get projects off the ground to build new homes. The cabinet secretary said:

‘We have a challenging target of delivering 20,000 affordable homes over this term of government. In working to meet our target, I want as many homes as possible to be delivered by SMEs, creating new capacity in this sector. I want to see people thinking innovatively about how we can do things differently to address the challenges we all face.’

Those words, and the ethos of the event itself, clearly indicate the vision he has of innovative housing playing a central role in plugging the gap in supply of affordable housing in Wales. Central to that approach is the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme, which has £20 million to spend over the next two years for social and private landlords to come up with innovative approaches to building new homes.

That doesn’t just mean using wooden modular units and sticking some solar panels on the roof – and then taking them to market at a low rental or sales price. It can be linked into job creation, environmental innovation, community regeneration or freeing up contaminated land. As one figure in the Welsh Government has put it to me:

‘Just think of all those former petrol station sites that have been turned into car washes because they’re on contaminated land. They are prime sites for housing as they’re on busy commuter routes. Just think if innovative ideas could free up that land for development?’.

This particularly fits the intensification agenda that is likely to be a companion to the City Region Deals that are coming our way in terms of meeting the accompanying housing need. We at CIH Cymru support that vision and my job is to ensure that our brand continues to offer members a breadth of knowledge across the sector, and beyond. Developing learning opportunities around the area of innovative housing, and the Welsh Government’s approach to that, is now a key priority for us.

Matt Dicks is director of CIH Cymru

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