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Affordable Housing: the need for action in Wales

Affordable Housing: the need for action in WalesThe Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors set out its view on the future of housing provision in its recent submission to the Barker Review. Here, the key issues for Wales are highlighted.

It has become evermore apparent that there is a crisis in our housing market, and housing availability in the UK is among the worst in the EU. Although levels of private housing building have continued to increase at a steady pace over the last few decades, social and affordable housing provision has dropped massively to crisis levels – with provision being only one fifth of what it was twenty years ago.

Compared to the rest of Europe, the UK is playing catch-up, with an average ten per cent or 2.5 million fewer homes than Germany, Italy and France when population size is taken into account. This could be due to the continuous erosion of public subsidies on the building of social housing, which in turn reduces the incentives for house-builders.

A number of recommendations were made by RICS to the Westminster government in relation to the recently introduced Barker Review. RICS Wales is fully in agreement with the views expressed and has identified ten issues of particular importance to Wales.

The lack of adequate resources conspires against the provision of affordable housing in Wales. This is heightened by the lack of consistency between Wales’ Local Authorities in respect of the implementation of planning agreements. Clear and consistent guidelines are required throughout Wales to ensure that house builders are fully aware of their obligations in meeting specific needs as part of their overall development proposals.

Welsh Local Authorities must embrace the idea of changing planning guidelines to enable vibrant mixed use developments that include housing and to look positively at developing unused industrial and commercial property for housing purposes.

A major problem associated with the release of sites for housing development in Wales is the inadequacy of essential infrastructure provision, and the apparent unwillingness of statutory undertakers to seek solutions to enable developments to proceed. This matter needs to be addressed urgently.

Given the legal requirement upon the Welsh Assembly Government to adopt and implement the principle of sustainable development, it is essential that the provision of ‘affordable housing’ be at the basis of their approach to the creation and maintenance of sustainable communities. Affordability is a key issue in this respect, as the market can provide for those who can afford to buy at current price levels, but in many areas there is little alternative for those who cannot.

In areas where there is a high demand for affordable housing a strategic, integrated overview is needed. This would ensure that the allocation and use of brownfield sites for residential development would not be confined to local planning authority boundaries, and that transportation links are taken into consideration.

Within Wales, mechanisms already exist that can assist with the problem of bringing forward sites for housing. With this in mind, more use could be made of existing compulsory purchase powers.

The disposal of surplus public land on the basis of achieving the greatest public benefit, and not solely the highest price, would also assist in the provision of affordable housing. This should be a requirement for local authorities, the WDA and all other public bodies in Wales.

More innovative approaches to the provision of affordable housing in Wales should be introduced, including the use of a variety of tenure arrangements such as shared ownership, the provision of lower cost housing products, and major employers providing shared ownership/low cost housing for key workers and other employees.

The house building industry in Wales should respond more positively to measures that are introduced to encourage the provision of affordable housing, particularly in respect of bringing sites forward for development from land banks. The private sector should respond more positively to the provision of affordable housing in those circumstances where a ‘level playing field’ is provided by the public sector in respect of land/property sale and/or statutory planning requirements.

We are already seeing a housing underclass being created throughout the UK, and its numbers are swelling to include people who traditionally would have been able to purchase their own home. House prices in the UK have doubled since 1995 meaning that large numbers of people have little hope of having access to suitable housing. If this continues to happen in Wales, the demand for social housing will continue to increase, adding to the problems of Welsh housing providers, who may find it difficult to meet the expectations of a society in desperate need of housing.

Cathy McLean is Director of RICS Wales, tel 029 2022 4414.

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