Back to the Future

New council house building is back and about time too says HQN Cymru Lead Associate Keith Edwards

See this page in: Cymraeg

There might have been a few false dawns in recent years but make no mistake, new local authority housing is back big time. When Minister Julie James said she was committed to building more council homes ‘at pace and scale’ she did so in the knowledge that the revolution had already started. All eleven authorities who still had council housing had plans – from modest pilots to major programmes. Now the ambitions are being turned into reality

Last week Carmarthenshire County Council announced that it would be building over 900 new council homes over the next five years.  Cardiff wants to build 1,000 council homes by 2022. Swansea is equally ambitious including pioneering new council houses which don’t need boilers to heat them. The Vale of Glamorgan and Caerphilly are also entering the build arena for the first time in decades.

In North Wales, Anglesey wants to increase it council housing by 500 in the next few years – about two-thirds of the will be new built with the remaining third bought in from the private market. Head of Housing Ned Michael told the BBC ‘It’s important for both the culture and language that we provide for them while also providing work’. Denbighshire council are building 22 homes on the outskirts of Denbigh that will ‘meet the climate change agenda and be adaptable to future technologies’ – part of plans for 170 council homes by 2022. Flintshire plan to build 500 new homes by 2030. Wrexham’s Build and Buy Programme will develop new homes, buy-back ex-council homes and purchase form the private sector. In Mid Wales, Powys plans to build 250 homes by 2022 and Pembrokeshire is also ambitious to build to meet local need.

Delivery across Wales will see council housing reach levels last seen before the right to buy was introduced, reversing 30 years of decline. The good news – and it is very good news – needs to be tempered. We are still some way off the ‘golden years’ – in 1976 more than 8,000 council homes were completed  compared to an annual average of 15 since 2000.  To make the most of opportunities we need to learn lessons from the past as well as taking into account what has changed over the period of the 30 years council house building famine.

Firstly, and most obviously, we can’t afford to repeat past mistakes. The days of single tenure, thousand home estates built on the side of mountains away from basic amenities are clearly over. We need to ensure an holistic approach to planning and to build to the highest standards including zero carbon.

Secondly, we have to ensure that this should never be about vanity projects or to score political points. There is cross party support for new council housing in Wales because everyone recognises we don’t build enough homes. This also means each authority needn’t go it alone, acting in splendid isolation. We don’t need 11 new spanking new and shiny delivery vehicles or development teams.

Thirdly there needs to be honest dialogue with other partners. Housing associations didn’t always help themselves in the years they had the new build whip hand and many local members still resent that social housing control was wrested from them. But associations have huge amounts to offer – they know how to build, can access finance and have a very strong community investment track record – creating communities not just building homes. It would be foolish and wasteful not to seek new ways of working together

Al this means we have to revisit, reinvent and sometimes create fresh ways of partnership working: Nationally between CHC and WLGA (who should seriously consider locking themselves in a room for a few days until a new concordat has been forged);  Regionally through the emerging opportunities of the South Wales City Deals and North Wales Economic Growth Deal; Locally between housing and planning and their partner associations and others including mutuals and co-ops.

Something very big is happening and the potential is huge. Let’s get it right this time.

This blog was first published by HQN Cymru.

Keith Edwards is an Independent Consultant and Lead Associate for Housing Quality
Network Cymru. For information on how to join, contact HQN: joinus@hqnetwork.co.uk

Keith Edwards

keith edwards