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Developing in Denbighshire

Thanks to self-financing, Denbighshire is building its first new council homes since the early 1990s and looking to meet a range of different housing needs in a diverse area.

Denbighshire County Council is one of four unitary authorities in North Wales which have retained their housing stock, and when the 2014 Welsh housing legislation gave authorities the opportunity to use the borrowing capacity in Housing Revenue Accounts to fund investment, the council decided to embark on a programme of developing new council homes.

Cabinet member for housing, regulation and the environment, Councillor Tony Thomas explains: ‘When the current council came into office, it identified the availability of housing to meet the needs of the county’s residents as one of the priorities in its corporate plan, and to contribute towards this priority it set a target of providing 170 additional council homes over the life of the plan.’

The area served by the council includes the coastal resorts of Rhyl and Prestatyn, the cathedral city of St Asaph, the market towns of the Vale of Clwyd, the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Dee Valley towns of Corwen and Llangollen in the south of the county. Reflecting on the housing need in Denbighshire, head of facilities, assets and housing Jamie Groves says: ‘The council and the other social landlords with property in the county have come together to introduce a single housing register and this has given us a steer as to location and type of additional council homes we should providing.’

With the most recent council homes in the county completed in the early 1990s and no recent history of land banking, the first tasks which faced the council in getting its housing development programme under way were to secure suitable sites for development and start designing the new homes which would go on them. This involved the appropriation of some sites from the council’s general fund to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), the acquisition of a number of others from Welsh Government and private owners and the council’s in-house design and construction  team working up designs for the new developments.

Some of the first developments to get under way have been in the county’s coastal towns. Lead officer for community housing Geoff Davies explains: ‘With over 50 per cent of the county’s population on the coastal strip, it came as no surprise that the greatest need for social homes in the county is concentrated in the resorts of Rhyl and Prestatyn and we have prioritised our programme to reflect this.’

The Nova Centre in Prestatyn, where land for development is at a premium

Sandwiched between the Irish Sea and the Clwydian Range and with no legacy of brownfield sites from previous industrial uses, land for development in Prestatyn is at a premium. Outlining the response to this challenge, lead officer corporate property and housing stock Dave Lorey says: ‘We reviewed all the council’s property in the resort and identified a former school site and an area of former railway land at the side of a cycle track as having some potential for residential development. Both sites have now been through the planning process and enabling works have already taken place on site with construction starting later this year. One site will provide accessible apartments which will address a specific need we have identified from our single housing register and the other will be a mix of family homes and general needs apartments.’

In the neighbouring resort of Rhyl, the property market had been rather different with large amounts of vacant property in the town centre and along the seafront, and high levels of deprivation arising from the concentration in a small area of residents subsisting on benefits living in poor quality flats which had previously been used as holiday accommodation.

Describing the approach in Rhyl, housing development manager Mark Dixon says, ‘We’ve adopted a different response to securing properties for residential development in Rhyl and tailored our programme to complement the regeneration of the resort’s waterfront and town centre by mainly purchasing existing properties for renovation and this has enabled us to access extra funding from Welsh Government through its new Targeted Regeneration Investment Programme to support our schemes. In fact, the first homes which we’ll be delivering through our development programme will actually be warm apartments which meet the council’s space standard and are in a building which was previously one of the worst houses in multiple occupation in the town. We’ve also just acquired some former retail units in the town centre for conversion and a terrace of nine-bedroomed Victorian properties which we’ll be reducing in size to provide four bedroomed family homes.’

Part of the proposed regeneration work in Rhyl town centre

Activity is not just confined to the coastal strip with a development of family homes built to the Passivhaus standard in the market town of Denbigh which, together with the Passivhaus apartments being built in Prestatyn are being part funded by Welsh Government through the Innovative Housing Programme, and the potential for developments in other parts of the county is currently being explored.

Summarising the Denbighshire’s achievements Jamie Groves adds: ‘The council has put the development of new homes right at the top of its agenda and we’ve come from a standing start to pull together a viable programme of new developments which will not only provide new homes but will also address the Council’s other priorities to minimise carbon emissions, tackle poverty and regenerate Rhyl seafront and town centre. The key to all of this has been the ability to use the borrowing capacity in the Housing Revenue Account to deliver these improvements.’

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