Today’s Senedd roundup: Estimated 27,000 empty properties in Wales 

Photo by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

As AMs discussed the Communities Committee inquiry into empty properties it was claimed that the number of empty properties in Wales exceeded the number of affordable homes the Government had targeted over the next five years  .

Chair of the Committee, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East), was pleased that nearly all of the committee’s recommendations – a national action plan, improved data collection and collaboration with social landlords – had been accepted or accepted in principle by the government.

The only sour point was a rejection of their recommendation to ring-fence revenue from council tax premiums for measures to address empty properties.

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), was critical of the government’s decision to only accept in principle recommendation on reviewing council enforcement powers. He called for Wales to consider the approach taken in England, where councils share empty property officers and also Scotland where communities have some say in how empty properties are renovated.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) believed councils weren’t doing enough with the enforcement powers at their disposal:

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) praised Rhondda Cynon Taf’s home loans scheme – which was picked up in the inquiry report – as an example to follow. Empty properties in the authority have fallen by 671 since 2017-18. Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) later spoke in support of co-operative housing schemes and reviewing how compulsory purchase orders worked.

“We’ve heard the figures: around about 27,000 private sector homes are empty….When we compare it to the Welsh Government’s target for the whole five years of this Assembly to build 20,000 affordable homes, it puts it in perspective, just the scale of the challenge and the number of empty properties that are out there.”
– Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) noted that while empty properties might blight communities, there may be reasons why they’re left empty – such as difficult and lengthy probate procedures.

Extra training for local authorities

Deputy Minister for Housing & Local Government Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn), believed the issue of empty properties was seen as being a “nice to have” when compared to key services like social care during a time of spending cuts.

The Welsh Government is developing a training programme to improve local empty property action plans – lack of expertise is one of the issues picked up by the Committee. She also believes local intelligence was “an untapped resource” which could be better put to use in the local action plans.

Delyth Jewell. Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Government Should Have Trade Deal Negotiation Seat, But No Veto

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes that the UK is currently due to leave the EU on 31 January 2020 and informal trade negotiations between the UK and US have begun, reportedly including references to the marketisation of patents/NHS drug pricing.
  • Notes that international treaties are outside the scope of powers of the Senedd and Section 82 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 allows Welsh Ministers to be directed by the UK to take actions to give effect to international obligations.
  • Believes Wales’s future would be best served by continued EU membership (subject to a second referendum); the Welsh NHS should not be forced by the UK Government to open up its market for greater private provision, or have increased drug costs imposed upon it, as a result of future trade deals; the health care system in the US has failed to properly regulate opioids, contributing to over 70,000 deaths in the US in 2018; the UK Government shouldn’t be able to direct Welsh Ministers to take actions in devolved fields which have the potential to be detrimental to Welsh public services.
  • Calls for the devolved parliaments of the UK to be given a veto over trade matters which affect devolved fields; Welsh MPs to support the NHS Protection Bill due to be introduced at Westminster in the new term and Section 82 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 to be repealed.

Cherry-picking vs scaremongering

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) told the chamber there was clear evidence the US is seeking to smooth over NHS access in a post-Brexit trade deal – not necessarily running services, but for drug sales, “cherry-picking the most lucrative parts of the market”.

Deregulation of medicines in the NHS could see costs rise to “obscene” US-style levels even for basic medicines like paracetamol, so it was important for the devolved legislatures to be able to have a veto on future trade deals to protect the NHS and to block any attempt by the UK Government to force any privatisation agenda on Wales.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) took the complete opposite view. This was Remainer denial, yet again. We could trust what Boris Johnson says as it was clear in the Tory manifesto says the NHS, drugs and services wouldn’t be on the table. Anything else what using fear tactics to prey on the sick and vulnerable and ironic considering private involvement in the NHS expanded more under Labour than the Conservatives.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) accepted that while current prescribing policy in the UK was less than perfect, the deregulation of opioids in the US has caused untold damage and those sort of practices should never be allowed to happen here. Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) added that drug patents had been used in the US to push up the price of generic drugs.

Personal health data “a potential goldmine” for US drug firms

Chair of the External Affairs Committee, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon), agreed with some aspects of the motion, but believed instead of a veto and the end of the process, the Welsh Government should instead play an active role in negotiating trade deals from the start. We didn’t have the constitutional guarantees to enact a veto policy for sub-national legislatures here.

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) though the concerns were genuine but misconceived; the NHS wouldn’t be attractive to any private operator as it doesn’t bring in any revenues. Also, the medicines market in the US was heavily influenced by insurance companies which would pay drugs companies whatever they ask for as there are no cost controls.

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said that clinical commissioning in England has resulted in over £2 billion worth of private healthcare contracts with Virgin, cherry-picked for the most profitable parts such as dementia care, immunisation and GP services. Personal health data was also “a potential goldmine” for US pharmaceutical firms.

Welsh NHS “not for sale”, but….

Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath), said categorically that the NHS in Wales would remain publicly run and wasn’t for sale, but while Plaid Cymru had correctly identified the challenges, they didn’t identify the solutions.

Belgium was the only example where sub-national legislatures have a veto on trade deals, but health wasn’t devolved to Flanders and Wallonia – so we had to be careful when looking at international precedents. What the Welsh Government would like, as David Rees hinted, was a direct role in negotiations, particularly concerning devolved responsibilities.

Vote

An amended version of the motion which left it mostly unchanged, but reflected the Welsh Government’s preference for having a seat at the table in negotiations, was approved by 26 votes to 11 with abstentions.

Photo by valelopardo from Pixabay

Mass screening following Carmarthenshire TB outbreak

Public Health Wales launched a mass screening of children in Carmarthenshire following an outbreak of latent TB in the Llwynhendy area, which resulted in the death of a 64-year-old woman in September.

BBC Wales reports that 29 additional cases have been found after 1,400 screenings and 200 cases have been identified in total. Latent TB can be transmitted from person-to-person but is treatable.

Shadow UK Minister withdraws call for maternity service public inquiry

The (UK) Shadow Business Minister, Rebecca Long-Bailey, withdrew a call for a public inquiry into the Cwm Taf maternity scandal after originally expressing support for such an inquiry in a 2019 UK General Election debate last Friday.

She said she didn’t know the details of the scandal, which was picked up by Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price.

In a statement, she said: “As I said in answering the question, I was not aware of the circumstances or actions taken by the (Welsh) Health Minister (Vaughan Gething) to establish comprehensive and fully independent review and oversight arrangements.”

National Survey to be changed to properly record nationality

The Welsh Government’s National Survey will be changed to enable people from minority ethnic backgrounds to describe their nationality as “Welsh” following complaints from a number of prominent Welsh BME personalities relating to the 2021 Census in EnglandandWales.

Singer-songwriter Kizzy Crawford told BBC Wales’s Newyddion 9: “I haven’t seen anything that represents me. I’ve always put down mixed or mixed British but that’s not accurate. I consider myself to be Welsh. I’ve always felt that people don’t accept me as a Welsh woman because of the colour of my skin. Things like this just confirm that.”

Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), said she would raise the matter with the Office for National Statistics regarding the census, whilst confirming that the Welsh Government’s own survey will be changed to address the issue.

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RhosdduMatênin GreniernathalieDave Brookerjr humphrysHuw Davies Recent comment authors
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Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Scandalous piece of information – 27,000 vacant homes, most of them will be in good condition or could be restored quickly. Useful bit of public spending as it would enable :

a) absorption of all except hard core homeless people and I suspect even hard core would find some of these places to their liking

b) upgrade of accommodation for some families whose present homes are no longer big enough

c) generate a public spend in a worthwhile direction, employing building and refurb trades and give training opportunities.

Get on with it.

Dr John Ball
Guest
Dr John Ball

It is a scandal, of that there is no doubt. I’m not sure that the age old idea of throwing public money at the problem is the correct response. Two approaches. Leanne Wood is entirely correct, local authorities have quite wide powers to address the problem and the Welsh Government should remind local authorities (in very strong terms!) of their powers, and indeed duties. Secondly – the First Minters has in the past expressed support for a Value Land Tax. I am unsure whether the Assembly has the power to implement such a tax, but if not should seek powers… Read more »

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

As I understand it all “empties” attract council tax , although they may qualify for some 6 months of relief when they become vacant. If this council tax rate was escalated beyond normal tax rates after a period of say 18 months that would perhaps motivate owners to sort out their affairs. It is acknowledged that some probates are long winded but they tend to be a very small exceptional minority that could be catered for. As for the matter of public spending, addressing this issue of housing would in my opinion yield a greater public good than many of… Read more »

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

Most of those homes will be either in the back end of beyond and in poor structural condition, or be 2 up 2 downs in the valleys, again in poor structural condition.

If you drive around West Wales you’ll see loads of empty houses literally falling down.

What Wales needs more than anything is good quality family homes to encourage our young to stick around.

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

A few good jobs and a vibrant local economy would help. There may well be many houses in West Wales ‘literally falling down’ but it tells its own story. I remember as a child seeing even more empty houses, many in the last stages of decay and dereliction, and spent many an hour exploring them. Then. as now the reason there are so many empty houses is that there is no local economy worthy of the name and hasn’t been in any rounded sense since the late 19th century. It’s only when there are decent jobs and a viable future… Read more »

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

Thriving agricultural economy, but farm technology means far less jobs than before, jobs that took five men all day can be done by one man and a loadall, it’s the empty schools I see all over rural Wales that break my heart

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Take a look at Liverpool and what was done with the once-derelect ‘Welsh streets’. These were taken over by the council, renovated, and are only available to Liverpudlians, on the basis of need. They are rented, but there is no reason why empty properties in Wales, once renovated, couldn’t be sold — to locals, and at an affordable price. The task of renovation should itself contribute a little to providing jobs in the building industry for locals, albeit temporarily, but still a small help to those who wish to stay in the locality. At the same time, a temporary halt… Read more »

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

The houses are empty because the locals don’t want them, 2 up 2 down former pit houses in the valleys don’t appeal to families, who can but nice modern homes.

And out in the country a lot of the dead tumble down stone farm houses were left to fall down when the farmer built a new warm house away
from the farmyard on another part of their farm.

And then there’s demand, 2 estates around here where they got as far as the ground works and the footings, and then gave up….

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

That’s right. Far more houses are built in Wales than is necessary, and they’re unaffordable for most Welsh people, so who are they built for?

If you’re a homeless family, or a first-time buyer you’re not going to turn your nose up at a 2-bedroom terraced house in a former mining village, though. And these, at least, are affordable to local people. There’s nothing wrong with a Valleys terraced house, and you’re immediately part of a close community.

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

All the new builds around here are aimed squarely at the local market, and let’s be honest, Welsh people earn the same as everyone else in the UK, it’s not like the minimum wage here is less

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Depends on which parts of the country you’re referring to, as regards affordability and jobs.

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

Well in Llanelli, brand new 3 bedroom houses, with ensuite master and a garage are £157k, imagine how much a similar house would be in Bristol or reading

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

Not enough houses are being built, Wales needs to add 50% to it’s population, at least, the lack of people away from the Newport/Valleys/Cardiff/Bridgend/Swansea/Llanelli/Carmarthen conurbation leads to a lack of facilities and services, towns literally closing down and simply becoming retirement communities for incomers

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

I acknowledge that Welshmen are good lovers, but 50%? How fertile do you think we are?

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

Attract people in from the rest of the UK, and before everyone starts moaning about settlers and invaders, their kids would be born here, and be just as Welsh as anyone else.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

They’d be settlers, not invaders. Or colonisers, if you prefer.

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

We can call them whatever we like, but lack of breeding age people is a huge problem in rural Wales

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Yes. So we need to revive the local economy, and make house-buying affordable, in order to encourage breeding-age people to stay, and in the process help to safeguard the Welsh language in such areas.

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

Many houses here are dreadful, vastly overpriced hovels, though good stock of bungalows in Cymru.
“New Homes” mostly 18’th century looking, often lagging behind those bungalows. Adam’s new town could be a springboard with F.L. Wright’s usonian house a guide, quality fittings, shower bidets, and underfloor?

Dave Brooker
Guest
Dave Brooker

Is this where we pretend that Wales is full of bungalows for English pensioners?

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

What does the term usonian mean?

Matênin Greniernathalie
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Matênin Greniernathalie

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