Homelessness in Cardiff and empty homes – Spokesperson’s questions

Jan 17, 2018 | Articles, Assembly Business, Cardiff, Cardiff Housing Issues, Constituency Issues | 0 comments

Plenary 17th January 2018

14:26
Watch on Senedd TV
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Diolch, Llywydd. I refer to the point of order that was raised with you on 13 December last year. I’m sorry that people took offence at what I said and I wish to make it clear that I respect your authority as Chair. I do, however, stand by the views I expressed about the proposed changes to the gender recognition Bill.

Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Social Services and Public Health Party: Welsh Labour

I thank you for the question. The issue of empty homes is an issue of concern for the Welsh Government. There have been, as you say, some good projects delivered under our empty homes project in particular, but it is an opportunity, really, to look right across our opportunities for regeneration to see how we can turn, for example, empty shops in our high streets into homes. That’s something that we’re pursuing through our town centre loan scheme, for example. It’s something that’s been part of our Vibrant and Viable Places project, but could, in the future, form part of our targeted regeneration investment programme. That’s a new programme launched in October of last year, which is a £100 million of investment in regeneration. So, I’m keen that, whenever we are thinking about regeneration, we’re also thinking in the context of home building and particularly turning empty properties back into homes.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes. Thanks for the answer. I think an holistic approach, as you’ve advocated, would be good, but I think you need to keep on top of the empty homes situation as a specific issue. Now, in terms of increasing housing supply in other ways, I know that you and Mark Drakeford, the Finance Minister, have been having discussions over a possible vacant land tax. Could you give us any update on the Government’s progress on this issue, and how do you think this might help the housing situation if you do agree to proceed with that tax?

Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Social Services and Public Health Party: Welsh Labour

Well, this is certainly one of those four areas of a potential future Welsh tax that Welsh Government has been considering and has been subject to a poll undertaken by the Welsh Treasury to understand the views that people might have on this as one of the potential four. Obviously, you wouldn’t expect me to make any announcement on the way forward today, because it is still a matter for discussion, and I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance will be able to provide an update to Members as soon as he’s able to do so.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, thanks. I appreciate that it’s still a work in progress and, of course, it cuts across the finance Minister’s portfolio, so I look forward to an update in due course. So, perhaps instead of me pursuing that issue, I could go back to the empty homes problem. Councils in Wales also have the power to take control of empty homes through empty dwelling management orders. Now, the figures show that these orders are hardly being used in Wales at the moment. Is there a case, do you think, that councils should now be guided into using these powers more often?

Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Social Services and Public Health Party: Welsh Labour

The way in which the councils generally approach the issue of empty homes tends to be, in the first instance, to try and work with the owner of the property in order to bring that home back into use. But then, if that fails, the empty dwelling management orders are there for local authorities to avail themselves of and I would encourage them to do so if they feel that it is appropriate to do. There are areas of good practice where local authorities are working with the owners of properties. For example, in Swansea, the local authority will work with owners in order to bring a property back into use by providing them with a loan in order to refurbish the property to the necessary standard, but then also guarantee that they will have a secure tenant for two years or more as a result of that. So, I think there are opportunities for local authorities to learn from one another and to explore the good practice that is being undertaken. I’m also keen that local authorities consider as well whether or not to increase the council tax on second homes. That’s an option that local authorities can and do take and I think it is a sensible way in order to try and prevent second homes taking over some villages—as we do have a situation in Wales—and that people who do own those homes do contribute to the local area.