“We need more affordable housing” has become one of the most familiar mantras of recent times. It is a phrase repeated by politicians from across the political spectrum.
In fact, it’s just as well that those from the left, right and centre all recognise this need, as it’s fair to say that they all share part of the responsibility for the affordable housing deficit we currently face. After all, the three major UK political parties have all held power (or a share of it) over the last 20 years, and to their credit, all seem to now accept that something radical needs to be done.
When the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced his November 2017 budget, one of his key proposals was a plan to boost housebuilding. He pledged to increase the construction of new homes to an average of 300,000 a year by the mid-2020s in what he called “the biggest annual increase in housing supply since 1970”.
Home ownership in Wales is at its lowest level in three decades with people in their 20s, 30s and even 40s believing they will never own a home. Meanwhile, there are more people without a permanent roof over their heads – sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation – than ever before. So, what can be done to fix it?
The Welsh Government’s programme for government – Taking Wales Forward 2016-2021 – states that the Welsh Government will work in partnership to deliver an extra 20,000 affordable homes in the current assembly term, including supporting the construction of more than 6,000 homes through the Help to Buy scheme. This target was also included in the Welsh Government’s national strategy – Prosperity for All.
For those of us involved in house building, our politician’s commitment to affordable housing programmes is undoubtedly good news. Across Wales, Anwyl are bringing to the market hundreds of new homes through a number of tenures offering a wide selection of homes and with a number of RSL partners which are needed for an effective housing strategy. However, a robust housing strategy and supply needs more than just building affordable housing, it also needs private housebuilders to significantly increase market housing to boost affordable delivery and mix of tenures as the two go hand in hand.
These must be in locations where people want to live so that homes are actually built. Government must engage and maximise relationships with developers and house builders to facilitate the building of the right tenure homes in the right geographical locations, with properly planned infrastructure and any necessary government investment to deliver on housing supply ambitions.
Whilst good progress has been made in Wales in order to continue increasing the number of homes at scale and pace there needs to be an environment which provides opportunities for a range of housing needs. It is encouraging that more planning permissions are being granted but we simply have to find a way to unblock the system and reduce the time it takes to achieve planning permission.
The cost of building in Wales is on the whole more expensive than in England. In addition, the Welsh planning system appears to be less developer friendly and therefore, the cost and risk of a speculative planning application is considerably greater. For this reason many house builders have avoided investing in Wales and are being temped across the border, but if red tape and regulation is cut more homes will get built and that dream of home ownership for the many not the few can become a reality.