Debate on the Affordable Housing Supply Review
Motion NDM6764 – Julie James (Swansea West)
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Recognises the importance of increasing the supply of affordable homes in Wales; and the Welsh Government’s commitment to doing so through its ambitious target of building 20,000 affordable homes during this term of Government – towards which good progress is being made
2. Recognises the Welsh Government is laying the groundwork for the prospect of building more affordable housing in the future, in response to a range of housing needs
3. Notes that the Welsh Government is working to create the conditions which drive innovation and improvements in terms of design, quality and energy efficiency in housing provision
4. Notes the scope and agreed work streams of the affordable housing review.
Amendment 2 – Caroline Jones (South Wales West)
In point 1, delete “and the Welsh Government’s commitment to doing so through its ambitious target of building 20,000 affordable homes during this term of Government – towards which good progress is being made” and replace with “and regrets that fewer than 3,000 additional affordable homes have been delivered in each of the last six years for which statistics are available”.
Amendment 5 – Caroline Jones (South Wales West)
Insert as new point after point 3 and renumber accordingly:
Calls for the Welsh Government to accelerate the construction of modular housing in order to deliver additional affordable housing units at pace.
Gareth Bennett AM
Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
Diolch, Llywydd, and I move our amendments. Thanks to the Minister for bringing today’s debate.
I’m sure we all agree that affordable housing is an important subject, and we want to do what we can in the Assembly to make affordable housing available to more people in Wales. Looking at today’s motion, we do oppose the Government’s motion, because it is somewhat self-congratulatory, and we note that many of the people involved in the housing industry take the view that more does need to be done. We can’t, therefore, agree with their point 1, which says that ‘good progress is being made’ towards the target of 20,000 affordable homes, since there is common agreement in the sector that the target needs to be much more ambitious. Our amendment 2 reflects that. Our amendment 5 proposes that more extensive use be made of modular housing. That would be one way in which new affordable housing units can be built and delivered quickly.
Other opposition parties have raised some valid points with their amendments, but, unfortunately, in order to push our amendments through, we are abstaining on them, because, if the other amendments pass, our amendments get deselected. That’s just the way it’s fallen today. In spite of that, I think all of the opposition parties can say that there is common ground in the notion that the Welsh Government need to be doing much more in this field.
On the subject of what the target should be, we do have this thorny issue of the Holmans target, which David Melding has raised again today. We tend to agree on this side that, with rising populations projected for the UK as a whole, which will affect us in Wales in our major towns and cities, like Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, we do need a higher target. So, we don’t think the Welsh Government objective is ambitious enough to begin with. We know that the Welsh Government is pushing ahead with plans for shared ownership schemes, which can work up to a point. As I pointed out the last time we discussed this — and the Minister agreed with me on this point — even assisted mortgage schemes like Help to Buy are not always affordable for many people in Wales, even those working in full-time jobs. This is because Wales is something of a low-wage economy, and house price rises, as we know, are outstripping wage increases. So, ultimately, there is this basic problem of demand and supply, which leads to galloping house price increases. This means that assisted mortgage schemes will be of only limited assistance in achieving the Welsh Government’s objectives for affordable housing.
To some extent, I think we have to adhere to the idea that housing is where you live. It doesn’t have to be something that you own. We have to face the reality that more people in Wales today are moving into the private rented sector, and that many people will be living in the social housing sector. So, we also need to keep an eye on rents. An issue that has arisen is the issue that sometimes rents in the social housing sector may rise by more than they do in the private rented sector. I know the Minister has explained recently that there is an expert group advising on a new formula for setting rent increases in social housing, and I think that’s good, but we do need to keep an eye on that issue of rising rents in the social housing sector.
Now, there are opportunities in housing and in house building. We know that one of the problems facing the house building sector is a lack of skills. Many people working in the construction sector are getting on in years. I believe there are some figures indicating that the average age of people employed in construction is around 53, and we need to ensure that enough younger people are encouraged to enter this industry. We have now to address the problem of training our own people to get involved in this sector. There are various strands that I think the Welsh Government can thread together, with the housing Minister working in concert with the skills Minister and also the Minister responsible for the Valleys initiative, which I was speaking on earlier today. I think a lot of these things are interconnected. I know that the housing Minister has been working with the Federation of Master Builders and other bodies on this issue. She’s also praised the example of Melin Homes in Newport, with their apprenticeship schemes. And I think we need to encourage more firms to take up this good practice. The Federation of Small Businesses has done some recent research demonstrating that wages in the construction industry are, in the context of Wales, comparatively very good.
We can also encourage more women to enter the construction industry as well because, with modular housing, not all of the jobs require a great deal of brawn or physicality, an issue that Jenny Rathbone noted last time. I know that the Minister today mentioned off-site manufacturing and I think we do need to encourage more modular housing, as this is a quick way to encourage more affordable housing into Wales. Of course, we do have to ensure that high standards of quality are maintained at the same time.
We should also be encouraging more small and medium-sized enterprises to be able to move forward with their housing schemes, particularly infill sites, which Mike Hedges has advocated in the past. He probably will do again today. And I know that the Minister has mentioned the Wales property development fund specifically for SMEs to access finance and I think that idea needs to be developed. Thank you.