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Editorial for issue 88 of Welsh Housing Quarterly

October 15, 2012 4:33 PM
By Peter Black in Welsh Housing Quarterly

The challenges facing the housing sector in Wales are huge and will not be solved solely with legislation no matter how far-reaching or radical the anticipated Welsh Government housing bill is.

Reforms are needed but key to putting in place more affordable homes, bringing some of the 22,000 empty private sector properties back into use, meeting the Welsh housing quality standard and improving privately rented accommodation is the role played by local councils.

They have the strategic housing responsibility locally and if they are able to work in a cross-cutting way internally, and effectively with external partners, including the Welsh Government and RSLs then they can make a real difference, even with the limited resources at their disposal.

The role of Welsh Government is also crucial of course. They are able to provide finance and the means to lever in additional resources, they have a regulatory role and, of course they provide a policy and legislative process under which everybody else operates.

The Welsh Government also sets targets and this is one area where we can all benefit from more clarity. I support the target of 7,500 new affordable homes by 2016 for example, but would like more detail as to what definitions will be applied in assessing this target and how it will be achieved.

Why does this target fall short of the Government's own research that has identified that we need on average an additional 14,200 new homes each year, 9,200 in the market sector and 5,100 in the non-market sector? Already, there is a current backlog of unmet housing need which is estimated at 9,500 households.

The Government need to be clearer about how councils implement their strategic housing duties as part of their planning function, including better joint working and a consideration of affordable housing as an intrinsic part of the LDP process.

At present LDP housing provision relies extensively on Central Government targets. These can often be unrealistic and difficult to justify. Should local Housing Market Assessments carry greater weight in the LDP process? Do we need more transparency as to how they are produced so as to be able to justify them as realistic and proportionate?

I also believe that there needs to be a duty for each local council to produce an empty homes strategy and that this should be backed up by a national strategy on empty homes.

There is much to do. We must agree a common agenda quickly and work together better to achieve our goals.