Spokesperson’s Questions – Housing, 11 July 2018

Jul 11, 2018 | Assembly Business, Cardiff Housing Issues, Uncategorised, Videos | 0 comments

Plenary 11th July 2018

14:30
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Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Diolch, Llywydd. There have been a number of successful planning applications recently for student accommodation in Cardiff. Some people have observed that virtually every major housing block granted planning permission for central Cardiff in the past 18 months has been for student accommodation. At the same time, we have a second so-called student block considering applying for change of use so that it can let its rooms to non-students, due to lack of demand from the student population. We also have a large block in Newport that is no longer being used exclusively for students. If there is a lack of demand for the blocks that have already been built, why are more student blocks being built, I wonder. Is the Welsh Government aware of this issue, and what are you doing to regulate this area?

Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Housing and Regeneration Party: Welsh Labour

Thank you for the question. I’m certainly aware of the issue, in terms of there being a large number of student accommodations within Cardiff that aren’t being occupied by students. There’s a particular difficulty in terms of changing those accommodations into non-student accommodations, of course, because my understanding is that the regulations surrounding the different types of accommodation are different, so there is an issue there in terms of space, and so on. I know this is an issue that the Minister with responsibility for planning is also very much alive to. But my advice to local authorities, certainly, would be to look very closely at their local housing needs analysis, and to be organising their planning and decision making around planning in accordance with those local housing needs.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Thanks for that response. I’m glad you are aware of the issue. I think there may be a need for perhaps closer involvement at Welsh Government level in this area, because the local authorities—certainly in Cardiff and Newport—may not be doing enough about it. I think that we may be heading for over-supply of student accommodation. Certainly we know that the expansion of higher education cannot go on forever; there will not be an endless supply of more student members in Cardiff, Newport, or probably anywhere else in Wales. I think what we may have here is something of a scam. It may be that the universities are deliberately creating an over-supply of flats for the student market, so that they can change their use by the back door, and use them subsequently to let out commercially. We know that there are less stringent rules applied to student flats than to commercial developments, for instance, which you alluded to in your answer. Are you aware that the universities could be duping the local councils into allowing these developments of student blocks, which the university chiefs know full well may be used subsequently for commercial letting?

Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Housing and Regeneration Party: Welsh Labour

I think there’s an onus on universities and on the local authorities to be having some serious discussions together in terms of their projections of local needs for both students and for the non-student population, and to be planning their new builds and what’s available in terms of accommodation locally in that way. I’m not sure that there’s a role for Welsh Government in terms of stipulating the number of student accommodations that should be available, but those decisions should be taken on an evidence base and a needs-based approach.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes. You cite the need for an evidence-based approach, and I’m sure you’re right in that. But there may be implications for your ambitions for affordable housing in Wales, which you were telling us about in the Assembly this week. Certainly, we agreed that we have a shortage of affordable housing here. Now, commercial developers, when they build new housing estates, have a certain legal obligation to provide an element of affordable housing. Developers building so-called student blocks are under no such obligation. Unless the Welsh Government becomes more aware of what the universities may be doing, and investigates the practice, then there is a danger that you are allowing the universities, and their partners in the construction business, to undermine your ambitions for affordable housing. So, are you aware of this threat? And I would ask you again, do you intend to do anything about it?

Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Housing and Regeneration Party: Welsh Labour

Well, the Minister with responsibility for planning has already said that she intends to issue a wide-ranging review of housing and planning rules over the course of the summer. So, I’m sure that this will be one of the issues that are drawn to the fore and drawn to attention within the course of that consultation, and it will be an opportunity to consider whether there need to be changes in that regard.