Statement: The Innovative Housing Programme

Oct 24, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues | 0 comments

Plenary Tuesday 24 October 2017

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Spoken Contribution – 17:01:37
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

Thanks to the Minister for today’s statement. I think these are interesting ideas and very worthy of exploration and I think there has been a good vision that we’ve seen today, so I hope that a lot of this innovation does come off. As the Minister said, there is a pressing need for more housing, and hopefully the innovative housing programme will help to address that. But of course we also need to ensure that it is good-quality housing and also that, ultimately, it is affordable. I appreciate that there’s a lot of risk involved with innovation, as the Minister stated, so we understand that not all of the different new ideas are going to take off, but it’s good that we investigate them.

The Minister stated that there is a wide array of innovative housing products that are coming on to the market, and he stated that a lot of it is now very good quality, so that is encouraging. I think there is a good idea, as the Minister suggested, of linking an innovative housing programme with training a new generation of construction workers, bearing in mind that this type of housing may take off, there may be less need for bricklayers, as you suggested. That’s possibly quite futuristic—I’m not sure how specifically we can train people for now. If the Minister does have any more to say on that I’d be interested to hear it, and how it’s going to link up with Ken Skates’s ideas of employability and apprenticeships and so on. But that may be for a future statement, because I appreciate it’s early days for the innovative housing programme.

Now, there are going to be 276 homes built in the first tranche. Given that there are risks in the innovation, as you stated, what safeguards do we have against the spiralling costs in the building—potential spiralling costs—to ensure that we do actually get close to 276 homes and that they do offer good value for money.

There are other issues over planning. David Melding mentioned the environment committee and our trip to SOLCER house, which is an example of a pioneer home as a power station. It was very interesting going around and looking at SOLCER house, but we were told that there was a housing association that are planning a similarly pioneering development and they were involved in a dispute with the local authority. I can’t remember the specifics—I have a feeling it might have been Bridgend that was the authority, but I might be wrong in that. But the one question is: what discussions has the Minister has with the environment Secretary, who is responsible for planning, about tackling possible problems over planning constraints and making it easier for the housing associations to get the planning permission to develop these kind of projects in future? There’s also the issue of the private sector. The Minister mentioned that he’s planning to extend the scheme to the private sector next year, which will be—. That’s another interesting development to look forward to. So, there’s also an issue of individuals who might want to build their own sustainable homes in future because there is a remarkable statistic that in Austria, 80 per cent of new properties are self-built. In the UK, it’s only 8 per cent. So, I wonder, in the future, what steps does the Minister think the Welsh Government might be able to take to boost this sector in terms of individuals who want to go ahead with this kind of innovative project of their own?

And one last point: obviously, there’s an environmentally friendly theme underlying all this, so has any thought been given to prioritising the development of brownfield sites for the innovative housing projects? Thanks.

Neil McEvoy AM

Neil McEvoy AM

Party: Independent 

Region: South Wales Central

I’m grateful for the Member’s questions, but I would ask the Member to have some ambition, have some enthusiasm, in terms of this great programme that we’re launching today. This is—. You’ve even got the Conservatives telling us we’re doing a good job—there’s something quite amiss there. [Laughter.] The fact is, £10 million on innovation for new, quality housing is something that we should all be celebrating, party politics aside. I’ll just address some of the points that the Member raised. We’re not building poor housing here, we are trialling different types of housing, and there is a measured risk to that, and there will be due diligence around all of those projects. Yes, some will be better than others, but we have to accept that some will be taken forward and for some—maybe it was their chance to flourish but it didn’t work for the environment they’re in.

In terms of the skills agenda, I’ve worked with Ken Skates and Julie James around what the employability pathway and supply chains may look like in terms of the projects that we are bringing forward. There is a national shortage of some of those hard skills already, so the carpentry, plumbing and traditional skills. Some of these can be taken out of that traditional method of delivery and taken into the factory. What we saw—. I visited a site yesterday where a lot of these jobs are done internally, and just dropped on site—it’s a fantastic, healthy way to do business, and the quality of these buildings are very good indeed.

In terms of the partnership approach, we’ve had discussions with local authorities, RSLs, the Council of Mortgage Lenders on the important factors, and whether people will pay for these and how that will develop in the future is one that we’ve welcomed dialogue on. This all adds strength to the bidding process.

The issue of planning permission is an interesting one. With some of these module units, what’s been successful is that some of the sites that we’ll be using in this are ex-brownfield garage sites from local authorities. So, it will be a case of demolishing or clearing the land that the unused garages were on and then just craning in some modular units for homes for people to live in. So, there are—. With limited planning permission—. So, we have looked at the suite of tools that are needed to deliver this.

I must say, Llywydd, I forgot to answer a question earlier on about finance to the Member from Plaid with regard to the fact that there is £10 million this year, with a guaranteed £10 million next year, with potential for more if the programme develops into something that we feel is worthy of further investment.