Putting Our Heads Together: What Can We Do About the Housing Crisis?

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Putting Our Heads Together: What Can We Do About the Housing Crisis?

Author: Stephanie Pugh

Key Contact: Liz Gibbons

In recent years, the social housing sector has received increasing Government support in Wales. With record-breaking government funding, breakthrough decarbonisation policies and ambitious government targets and standards, it is clear that social housing is recognised as a pillar of the social sector. 

However, the housing crisis in Wales persists, and the struggle to meet such crucial but pressured targets continues. Simply put, Wales needs more homes and is demanding from the constrained development and construction industry build requirements that it is struggling to meet.

So, what are the key issues we face in Wales, and importantly, what can we do about them?

  1. Lack of Land

A significant barrier to social housing development in Wales is the scarcity of available and suitable land.

Competition for land use with private sectors in Wales such as agriculture, commercial development, and private housing persist, making “available land” not only a rarity, but increasingly costly. Further, strict regulations within the planning system result in difficulty purchasing “suitable land” for development (e.g. SuDS, highways and phosphates).

Joint-ventures and collaborations between public and private sectors are key to addressing this issue.  Where competing interests arise in relation to available, suitable land, collaboration between the public and private sector should be encouraged.

At Acuity, we can assist with bringing our clients together and facilitating round table meetings, networking sessions and meaningful discussion, with a view to achieving a corporate structure where risk can be spread, and successes can be shared.

  1. Constraints within the Planning System and Delays to Construction

The planning system in Wales is complex and lengthy. While stringent regulations are essential for sustainable development, this must balance effectively with the demand for housing. 

Going forward, Community Housing Cymru’s Inquiry into Social Housing (CHC Inquiry) recommends better use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to speed up the construction process. The CHC Inquiry goes as far as calling on the Welsh Government to introduce higher grant rates being for schemes using MMC. However, for this to be supported by housing providers in Wales, communication and a broader understanding of the MMC market is required.

Further, following the Labour victory, there is the possibility that the government in Wales can adopt some of the Westminster promises for planning; including the funding of additional planning officers; upskilling them in s106 negotiations, and introducing a “planning passport” for urban brownfield development.

  1. Decarbonisation Requirements

The CHC Inquiry recommends that, as a minimum, the Welsh Government should establish baseline costs to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023, with any gaps to costs to be filled by grants or “innovative financial models.”

Wales has committed to ambitious decarbonisation goals as part of its efforts to tackle climate change. However, decarbonisation requirements often entail higher upfront costs for energy-efficient materials, technologies, and construction practices.

Whist developing new stock of a high energy standard is key, maintaining and improving existing housing stock is essential. It is crucial to understand your current stock’s quality, the downfalls and the successes.

  1. Increasing Cost of Labour and Materials

The construction industry in Wales, like much of the UK, is experiencing a significant increase in the cost of materials, a decline in the availability of cost-effective labour and supply chain disruptions.

In response to this issue, the CHC’s Inquiry states there is “a clear role” for the Welsh Government in “facilitating discussions around the standardisation of the homes we build … to achieve scale and collaboration, and make the achievement of building to zero carbon

more realistic.” Again, highlighting the need for collaboration within the industry.

The Overarching View

As per the first recommendation within the CHC’s Inquiry, it is a foundational requirement that we approach these issues with a long-term, joined-up strategy.

Not only should this apply to pillars of the social sector, housing providers, healthcare providers, education providers and local authorities, but fostering such a communicative environment should extend to the smaller scale round tables. Encouraging discussions between organisations to close “project specific” gaps and issues is key.

In short, collaboration within the industry is vital; sharing ideas, success stories and even encouraging sharing experiences of when things go wrong.

Acuity Law is a proponent of ideas-sharing and collaboration across the sector. For help in developing your strategy in dealing with the challenges mentioned in this article, contact our Social Housing team.  

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