Top Tory slams Welsh Government’s ‘dismal’ record on house building
The most senior Welsh Conservative politician has criticised the Welsh Government over what he described as its “dismal” record on home building.
Figures compiled by the UK Office for National Statistics show that over the financial year to March 2022, a total of 204,530 dwellings were completed in the UK.
Of those, 171,190 were built in England, 20,770 in Scotland, 7,300 in Northern Ireland and only 5,270 in Wales.
The latest quarterly house building statistics to be released show that between April and June 2022, some 54,910 dwellings were completed in the UK, of which 46,230 were in England, 5,320 in Scotland, 1,770 in Northern Ireland and 1,590 in Wales.
Wales has roughly 5% of the UK’s total population, but in 2021-22 built just 2.6% of the total number of homes, rising to 2.9% in the quarter covering April to June 2022. The figures represent all homes in the private, public and third sectors.
Commenting on the figures, Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies said: “Of late, Keir Starmer has hurriedly pledged a whole load of promises, including a desire to construct more houses.
“However, a quick reality check of Keir’s party in Wales, which is in power and consequently in control of housing, reveals its dismal record on house construction.
“In the financial year ending March 2022, Wales suffered the lowest number of completed dwellings – just 5,270 – in the whole of the UK. Even Northern Ireland, with a substantial lower population than Wales, managed to build a greater number.
“Labour’s priority needs to be building more houses, not wasting time on creating more politicians and attempting to ban meal deals.
“Labour’s lack of action speaks louder than its empty words.”
Mark Harris, the Home Builders Federation’s (HBF’s) planning and policy adviser for Wales said: “Planning delays and the lack of up-to-date local development plans in many areas have resulted in the supply of new housing in Wales currently falling below the level required to meet demand. Added to this, the nutrients issue [an obligation on developers to make sure the amount of nutrient pollution – usually nitrates and phosphates – entering rivers doesn’t increase as a result of new development] has delayed or blocked the building of an estimated 5,000 homes over the last two years.
“Home builders want to get on site and build desperately needed homes, but the growing regulatory burden, moratoriums on development and underfunded planning system make for an increasingly challenging landscape.”
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The latest National House Building Council report states that the final quarter of 2022 saw a significant drop in new home registrations across much of the UK as the impact of the UK Government’s September mini budget and wider economic challenges took hold.
“Social rented housing accounted for 82% of all affordable housing delivered in Wales in 2021-22 supporting those on the lowest incomes. This is in stark contrast to England, where the percentage of social rented housing delivered dropped to just 13%.
“Social housing remains our top priority as reflected in our commitment to deliver 20,000 low-carbon homes for rent in the social sector this government term and we have allocated record levels of investment to achieve this.”
The spokeswoman added: “Some 1,805 new dwellings were completed in the quarter October to December 2022 – 3% higher than in the same quarter in 2019 and 35% higher than in the previous quarter. These include homes completed in the private and social sectors.”
HBF has also criticised the UK Government’s housing approach, warning that its “increasingly anti-development policy regime – planning, nutrients levels in rivers and mortgage availability following the closure of the Help to Buy scheme in England – could see housing supply fall to the lowest levels on record.
In a report published in January, HBF referred to the UK Government’s “latest capitulation to the nimby wing of the Conservative Party”, stating: “Those proposals … will see sweeping changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the planning system that was introduced in 2012 and has ensured local authorities [in England] abide by their responsibilities to build the homes their communities need. Of the 58 proposed changes to the NPPF that have been tabled, only three could in any way be construed as being positive towards new development.”
Matt Dicks, director in Wales for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH Cymru), said: “Clearly, we’re not building anywhere near enough new homes – or bringing enough existing empty homes back into use – at the scale and pace required across all tenures in order to address the housing crisis.
“According to the Welsh Government’s own data, we should be building between 6,200 and 8,300 additional homes a year, which should be split roughly half between market sale and half affordable. So, by that measurement we are a long way short of what we need to be building. But that’s a charge that can be levelled at every government in the UK.
“There are lots of barriers to development, not least the usual/historical elements such as planning capacity, SUDS, land availability and cost etc, but we also now have the impact of the cost of living crisis on supply chains, resulting in contractors going out of business in Wales, which given the size of the Welsh market tends to have a relatively bigger impact in a smaller pool.
“But one of biggest barriers at the moment is shortage of labour, again a relatively bigger impact in Wales as labour tends to get attracted to the bigger better-paid market in the southeast of England, as well as the more lucrative infrastructure projects at the detriment to availability for house building.
“That said, is the Welsh Government ‘anti-development’ compared to other jurisdictions based on these figures? Well, they’re investing record levels in Social Housing Grant to support housing associations to build, still providing a grant-intervention rate of more than 50% for most social housing developments, and housing associations certainly don’t get that level of support in some parts of the UK. But of course inflation has impacted the value of that investment.
“The Welsh Government has also lifted the borrowing cap on HRA [the Housing Revenue Account] to get councils building again and are working with CIH Cymru and stock-retaining councils through the Building Council Homes at Pace & Scale Project to get that done. They’ve also extended the Help to Buy scheme until 2025 with an additional £63m of investment – on top of £290m in the first phase and £174m in the second phase.
“That could be viewed as a subsidy to private developers because it stimulates the demand side for new homes. The scheme has stopped in England. So arguably they’re doing more than some jurisdictions in terms of direct investment into development.
“But CIH Cymru thinks the Welsh Government could be doing much more to support development, particularly of social housing which is what Wales urgently needs. And while we have record levels of investment in Social Housing Grant, and a commitment to ending homelessness, our issue is that housing’s not as high up the priority ladder as we believe it needs to be, in order to be commensurate with the scale of the crisis, which is why we, along with our #BacktheBill campaign partners Tai Pawb and Shelter Cymru, are calling for the incorporation of a Right to Adequate Housing into Welsh law to really drive forward a policy and investment agenda that will end the housing crisis. We’re expecting the publication of a Green Paper on that very soon.”
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