First Ministers admits challenges of meeting soaring demand for housing in Wales
The First Minister has told the Senedd that it has been impossible to prevent the soaring demand for housing in Wales.
Mark Drakeford was asked by Luke Fletcher MS for South Wales West this afternoon (13 December): “How is the Welsh Government supporting local authorities with homelessness over Christmas?”
To which he replied that his government has spent over £197 million this year alone in trying to end homelessness.
Mr Fletcher spoke about a disabled constituent of his who was facing homelessness this winter, then asked: “Giving that there are 25,000 empty properties here in Wales, is it now time for a government action plan on empty properties?”
Mark Drakeford said there were “two aspects” to the problem: “There is demand on the one side – and demand in the system has risen inexorably this calendar year.”
Now, the Oxford dictionary defines inexorably as: “in a way that is impossible to stop or prevent”.
However, the First Minister did not elaborate on the how or why this came about.
What he did do was proceed to roll out some figures: “In January, 1,100 people presented themselves as threatened with, or actually being homeless … in August, 1,500 and I believe the next set of figures it will rise to over 1,600.”
Surge in demand
Mr Drakeford admitted there was “a huge surge in demand” for homes, and “part of the answer to that is to increase the supply of affordable housing.”
Nobody disagreed with him on that one, and he continued: “We have a commitment of 20,000 low carbon homes for rent this Senedd term. We are acting to invest £65 million in transitional accommodation, and giving £30 million of that in the area of Wales represented by Luke Fletcher …”
And on went the figures until the First Minister came back to the original question about empty homes, and spoke about “assisting local authorities to bring back empty homes into use”.
There are indeed significant examples of that throughout Wales said the First Minister before homing in on Pembrokeshire as an example of a local authority that has – with support from Welsh Government – “been able to bring a large number of Ministry of Defence properties back into use for the larger population …”
So not exactly top end housing then.
Before putting his question to the First Minister in the Senedd this afternoon, Sam Rowlands MS, pointed out that there were over 14,000 people currently living in temporary accommodation in Wales
Mr Rowlands, who represents North Wales in the Senedd, then referred to evidence taken recently by the Local Government Housing Committee: “where council leaders admitted funding was part of the challenge. But, as you have pointed out yourself recently, it is the lack of housing supply which they found particularly challenging.”
On top of that, Mr Rowlands said that developers have told him of the “barriers” they face when trying to develop homes: “One of those is around the phosphorous regulations. On one side of the border in England, new social housing is being built, and on the field on the Welsh side of the border this isn’t possible because of the regulations …”
Referring back to the First Minister’s own earlier figures, Mr Rowlands asked him: “What action will you be taking to accelerate this ambition to build those homes, rather than standing here in two-, or three-years’ time talking about the homelessness challenge?”
The First Minister said he’d met “the major players in this area at the Royal Welsh Show this year” and there would be “a follow up meeting with those players in the new year.”
The Welsh Government website includes a written statement by the First Minister dated 1 August 2022. The headline screams: River Pollution Summit at the Royal Welsh Show.
From this statement, one gathers that the “major players” he referred to are: regulators, water companies, developers, local government, farming unions, academia and environmental bodies.
Back in the Senedd, the First Minister explained that the meetings with those “major players” are: “To make sure that all organisations that have a part to play in resolving the phosphate issue are able to do that, and that nobody spends their time pointing the finger at somebody else, saying: ‘now if only they did something then this problem would be solved’.
The First Minister was certainly not pointing any fingers and confirmed that: “The spirit of that meeting in Llanelwedd was much better than that … What the answer cannot be is to allow house building to happen in places without a plan to make sure that house building does not add to the already excessive levels of pollution in rivers in Wales. The pollution crisis we face in some parts of Wales is absolutely real. We can’t make that worse in order to make something else better.”
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