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Opinion

Reform of the planning system is crucial to address the housing crisis in Wales

09 May 2024 4 minute read
HMO’s in Cardiff. Photo via Google

Jack Sargeant, MS Alyn and Deeside

There is a pretty strong consensus that there is no route out of the housing crisis that doesn’t include building much more social housing, and frankly, much more housing in general.

When head teachers are raising concerns with politicians about their school numbers being significantly impacted by private rental evictions, we should stop and think.

For these children being forced out of their homes and into temporary accommodation, often miles away from their schools, this is a tragedy that could have lifelong consequences.  For society as a whole, we are storing up significant problems for the future that could be very expensive to solve.

HMOs

The problem is just as acute for individuals forced into houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) because of a lack of affordable one-bedroom flats.  Their living conditions are far from ideal, and HMOs place a real strain on communities.  Single people waiting for one bed flats make up a significant portion of every social housing waiting list and are the most likely to end up street homeless.

With housing so unaffordable these scenarios will be a daily occurrence for families in every constituency.

We have seen a lot in recent weeks about the need to build more and an acceptance that this will need to involve planning reform.

I applaud Keir Starmer and his willingness to announce himself a builder not a blocker.  Opposing development is much easier than advocating change.

Allocating more sites for development and setting ambitious affordable housing targets is key, as is making sure that a significant portion of this affordable housing is social housing.

LDP sites

In Wales we have found that Local Development Plan identified sites are much more likely to achieve affordable housing targets. This is also because complex brown field sites are very expensive to build on.

When developers appeal on affordability grounds, they are often able to demonstrate that it would be impossible to deliver housing on the site with an affordable element.

This is far from satisfactory for those of us that want to see as much affordable housing as possible delivered.

Part of the solution is to allocate more land to be built on, particularly as Keir put it on low quality (Grey belt) land that while technically in the green belt is of limited environmental value.

To do this we need to give planning authorities more resources.

Fourteen years of cuts to local government budgets means capacity is low and we cannot continue to ask planning authorities to run solely on the fees they bring in.

Land allocation

Carrying out any exercise in increasing land allocation for development requires a great deal of work and it cannot be done quickly or properly by planning authorities that are significantly understaffed.

We should also want to see more brown field sites brought into productive housing use. Objections to these sites can often be much stronger than greenfield sites.  These can sometimes centre around the disruption that developing such sites can cause for surrounding neighbours.

The use of modular housing on these sites could seriously limit this disruption by reducing construction time.  I’ve written before about councils and housing associations in Wales coming together to create a modular housing hub here in Wales to deliver this in a timely fashion.

You are never going to please everyone when looking to reform the planning system and build more housing.  Some people will oppose development whatever.  As elected politicians we have a choice.

We can choose to amplify the voices of those I mentioned at the top of this piece, whose lives are literally being ruined by a lack of affordable housing, or we can amplify those that write in complaining about social housing plans on a derelict site nearby. We cannot do both.


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Mozart
Mozart
13 days ago

Absolutely agree that LPA’s need more investment. If only there was a spare £18m kicking around

Annibendod
Annibendod
13 days ago
Reply to  Mozart

I thought there was £350m a week kicking around. Saw it on a bus I did.

Swn Y Mor
Swn Y Mor
13 days ago

People should be extremely wary of any proposals to changing the planning system particularly from Keir Starmer.

‘We can choose to amplify the voices of those I mentioned at the top if this piece, whose lives are literally being ruined by the lack of affordable housing, or we can amplify those that write in complaining about social housing plans on a derelict site nearby, We cannot to both’. Do not like this them and us attitude. You are either with the people or you are with the nimbys.

Blegywryd
Blegywryd
11 days ago
Reply to  Swn Y Mor

Planning in Wales is devolved. If there’s a case for streamlining the system as Jack Sergeant argues (and he may well be right) then it’s a matter for Vaughan Gething not Keir Starmer.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
12 days ago

No! There are already more than enough empty second, (third, fourth…) homes in Cymru to provide the population with a home. There are enough vacant properties across the whole uk to provide the population of the uk with a home.

Councils up and down the country should be compulsory purchasing these empty properties to then rent out!

Mawkernewek
12 days ago

I applaud Keir Starmer and his willingness to announce himself a builder not a blocker.

This immediately makes me think of Lemmings.

Mawkernewek
12 days ago

Apparently Wales only has one official Green Belt, between Cardiff and Newport, and I can’t even easily find online a straightforward map or description of its extent.

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