Council approves £77m affordable ‘housing crisis’ action plan and looks at second home tax hike

Gwynedd Council building in Caernarfon. Picture by Jaggery (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter

A £77m plan to build 1,500 affordable homes won unanimous backing by councillors looking to tackle a county’s “housing crisis”.

Gwynedd Council wants to build hundreds of properties by 2027 and it plans to partially fund its “Housing Action Plan” by hiking taxes on second homes by as much as 100%.

That would leave holiday home owners paying double the amount of local residents, if the plans which are out to consultation are approved.

Meanwhile the cabinet also moved to present the Welsh Government with the findings of a council commissioned research paper which require changes to national planning and taxation legislation.

According to the paper 60% of locals are priced out buy the housing market – with 6,849 or 10.77% of the country’s entire housing stock now being designated as second homes.

The council wants to introduce a licensing system for AirBnBs and restrictions on the building and transfer of second homes and close a “loophole” that allows second home owners to avoid paying any council tax at all if let out for enough days in a calendar year.

 

‘Locals’

Craig ab Iago, the portfolio holder for housing, hailed the plan as one of the “best things the council has done in years”.

The affordable homes would be paid for by £22.9m from the second home council tax premium as well as grants and £15.4m worth of loans.

He hoped work could begin as soon as next year: “We know that our young people face a greater challenge than ever to find a suitable home locally, and this is an unfair and unjust situation.

“Put simply, it is a crisis and I’m determined to see us delivering a real change. I am therefore extremely proud of this plan, which not only shows Gwynedd Council’s vision for the future of housing in the county, but more importantly, that we have definite plans to implement that vision.”

It has an aim of securing an additional 500 affordable homes including the construction of 100 new houses to be sold or let to locals.

Also, 250 loans would be offered to first-time buyers while delivering more than 600 new social homes including buying in 72 former council houses to rent and extending a grant scheme to bring another 250 empty houses back into use.

It would also see investment into environmentally-friendly homes and developing 150 living units for homeless people and 130 new units for some of the county’s most vulnerable.

The council receives between 80 and 90 homelessness submissions each month.

Cllr Nia Jeffreys added, “We have long known and experienced first hand in Porthmadog the crisis in housing – however that so many local people are priced out of the market is shocking.

In response, Housing Minister Julie James confirmed that week that she plans to make a statement to the Senedd in January outlining how the Government intends to act on the issue of housing in rural and tourist areas.

Spending

The Housing Action Plan key points at a glance:

  • Speeding up the social housing construction programme by using council funds rather than depending on the Social Housing Grant alone, allowing 500 new homes to be built and prioritising one and two bedroom properties. (£23m)
  • Buying 108 on-sale former ‘council houses’ to increase the amount of social housing available for rent. (£15.4m)
  • Delivering an extra-care housing scheme in Pwllheli with two others proposed in the mid and south of the county, providing up to 72 living units. (£13m)
  • Integrated health and care hub in Penygroes including 17 houses for older people and those with specific requirements as well as a new care facility at Plas Gwilym offering an extra 11 additional bedrooms. (£20m)
  • 38 ‘supported housing’ developments for those who face homelessness and require urgent temporary accommodation. (£4m)
  • Remodelling and upgrading the NatWest and GISDA building in Caernarfon to provide four flats for homeless young people, one flat to train young people to be able to live independently, an extension to the café to create employment for the homeless and a permanent suitable home for GISDA. (£970,000)
  • Five self-contained units for individuals with intensive social needs (£500,000)
  • A support package for landlords to encourage them to offer tenancies to local people who need housing rather than shorter term lets. (£100,000)
  • Specialist mental health support to support tenants to remain in their homes (£240,000)
  • Working with Clwyd Alyn Housing Association to ensure that the Polish Care Home in Penrhos, near Pwllheli, receives investment to redevelop the existing living units to high standard homes to local people. (No figure stated)
  • Building 100 homes to increase the housing stock in those communities where demand exists. (£3.8m)
  • Taking advantage of Welsh Government’s scheme to prepare sites for housing developments through the ‘self-build’ model, with a trial scheme for six homes in Llanrug. (£30,000)
  • Grants to help 250 first time buyers to renovate empty houses to an acceptable living standard. (£4m)
  • Extending the exemption period for paying council tax on empty houses (main or sole house), giving first time buyers an additional year to complete essential restoration work before the house may be occupied. (£200,000)
  • Extending the Homebuy pilot scheme which lends up to 20% of the house value up to £30,000 towards a mortgage deposit for first time buyers. (£3m)
  • Finding and purchasing land for building in the future (£1.2m)
  • A service to help sellers identify a local person in need of a house and offer a selling service on their behalf, if they so wish.
  • Buying and developing 15 homes as supported housing for adults with profound needs. (£400,000)
  • 17 new modern units for adults with learning disabilities to replace the current provision at Caernarfon’s Frondeg home, described as “unsuitable and coming to the end of its lifespan.” (£200,000)

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