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CIH Cymru – Turning the review into reality

Matt Kennedy reflects on the recommendations of the affordable housing review and the challenges that are still to come.

On the morning of TAI 2019 we had the delivery of the eagerly anticipated (among us policy folk at least) recommendations arising from the independent review of affordable housing supply in Wales. We’ve been digesting the recommendations and engaging with housing professionals across Wales about what they could mean in practise.

One of the key challenges for the panel was (to my mind at least) how the recommendations move on from the Essex review but still reflect the fact that many of those challenges (carbon neutrality, leveraging investment, skills and capacity) remain prominent characteristic of the modern-day housing policy environment. To that end, the panel reflected on a number of those areas and in doing so have been quite bold in outlining targets and mechanisms for delivering true progress.

The panel have been clear that collaboration in developing new affordable homes is the way forward. Not that this hasn’t been common-place for many years, but the panel recognised the need to increase consistency. The panel advocated for the creation of five-year Affordable Housing Supply Partnerships – which would see organisations/collaboratives invited to bid to develop across a much bigger footprint; complimented by better quality and consistency of data within Local Housing Market Assessments and an arm’s-length body for coordinating the use of public sector land.

A major change with this approach would see local authorities take a step back from administering the grant regime, with Welsh Government ultimately signing the cheques and a new built-in flexibility to the grant rate, which in theory could make the overall grant go further. The review also outlined the need to rationalise housing standards across all tenures and achieve carbon neutrality 2021 for all new affordable homes and 2025 for all existing homes across all tenures.

The approach and ambition leave several questions hanging in the air. Can local authorities service the level of borrowing they’ll need to undertake to both maintain a programme of development and improve the energy ratings of existing homes? Will the standard around housing quality and ambitions towards carbon neutrality create an effective platform from which to leverage more investment into the sector? Can we establish local supply chains that will allow modern methods of construction that work for the Welsh context become common features of how we deliver homes in the future?

Speaking more broadly, it seems important to ask how future-proof the review’s recommendations are. Like any review of this kind, the implementation of the recommendations remains linked to pressure on Welsh Government spending, national and local politics and how well the government is held to account in the years to come.

The review has ultimately grappled with some impossible questions and produced a common-sense approach that could change the way affordable homes are delivered in Wales, see a more joined-up approach, better resourcing for local authorities in terms of informing housing need evidence and deliver better homes at a greater quantity underpinned by collaboration within our current resources. It’s a positive step-forward but learning from the lesson of the Essex review one decade ago, the work has only just begun.

Matt Kennedy is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru


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