Senedd Election 2021: Housing and Local Government
Our Monitoring and Data Officer, Lara Stace, analyses some of the key housing and local government commitments made by the three main parties in their Senedd Election 2021 manifestos.
The next five years will see some substantial housebuilding, as all the main parties have committed to varying numbers of new homes in the public and private sector over the next five and 10 years. But numbers aside, the parties’ promises provide for different interests – whether they be a private housebuilder, a social interest project, or the scores of people waiting on a housing list for a home.
The Welsh Conservatives top the bill, with a promise to build 100,000 new homes over the next decade if they form the next Welsh Government. The majority of these will be private sector and although the party has said it will ensure there is enough affordable housing, it does not provide a concrete figure. Forty per cent of these homes will be social homes, which may be needed to help rejuvenate stocks if the party restores Right-to-Buy as promised and social tenants are allowed to purchase their homes at a discounted rate.
Behind the Tories is Plaid Cymru, which has pledged to build or convert 50,000 public homes over the next Senedd term. These will primarily sit within the public sector, with 30,000 council or social housing, including some of Wales’ empty homes and flats, and 5,000 properties will be made available at an ‘intermediate’ rent.. A further 15,000 affordable homes will be available to purchase, at a level the party has said it will review to bring in line with real local income. The party has also said it will explore proposals for a Property Act, which could see Plaid’s commitment to ensure affordable homes for people put into legislation.
Sitting lower down among the big three parties, Welsh Labour has pledged to deliver 20,000 new, low carbon social homes for rent. Although the pledge is less ambitious than Plaid and the Welsh Conservatives, Mark Drakeford will be able to say the party delivered on its promise to build 20,000 homes by the end of the 2016-21 Senedd term. The pledge only commits to investment in social housing and although the party has said it will support co-operative housing, community-led initiatives and community land trusts, the private sector has not reached its topline commitments. The party’s housing policy also puts its weight behind low carbon methods of construction, citing timber in particular, which fits in both with its wider commitment to sustainability and the commercial vision of the National Forest for Wales.
Plaid Cymru has proposed some significant changes to planning policy, including the creation of a new, autonomous Welsh Planning Inspectorate, Cynllunio Cymru, with policy embedded within the activities of other, new, big public bodies – such as economic development agency Prosperity Wales and the party’s housing company Unnos—Land and Housing Wales. The party is also giving more powers to councils to curb the rising number of second homes in areas of rural Wales, including a 200% council tax premium on second homes and a cap on second home numbers in a single area. Stepping back, any overhaul will need time for plans to come to fruition – and the party will want to be able to talk about some progress at the next election.
The Welsh Conservatives have pledged to overhaul the Welsh planning process with new technology and by cutting red tape, although it does not provide much detail. It has also proposed putting in place a strategy to make the most of developer contributions and simplify Section 106 funding, which can see developers pay a sum to the council to provide a facility, to speed up house building. This may be part of its overhaul to cut red tape and it has again not provided any clarity about how such a strategy will look, although it has said it will put communities first.
Welsh Labour has not offered any new substantial changes to planning, but instead highlighted its ongoing work to bring local authorities under regional planning structures. However, in early 2021 the Welsh Government launched its big development plan for the next 20 years, Future Wales, which positions the planning system as having a key role to deliver and guide their strategic priorities.
Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru have both promised to strengthen local government in some way, while the Welsh Conservatives haven’t gone big on the structure of local government itself. Welsh Labour has proposed some specific changes, such as changing the performance framework used for local government, but its manifesto otherwise makes broader promises to ‘strengthen the autonomy and effectiveness’ of local government.
Plaid Cymru has said it would substantially cut the number of Community and Town Councils from more than 730 to around 150, but those that remain would have planning powers and an economic development role in certain areas, including renewable energy, local business start-ups and recycling. If the polls prove accurate and Plaid and Labour find themselves in negotiation with each other, local government may expect to have a greater say on development and projects in its area.
On council tax, Welsh Labour has given a vague promise to reform the levy to make it ‘a fairer system for all’, but while in government commissioned research on the feasibility of replacing council tax with a local tax based on income. Such a fundamental change would require significant cross-party support and although Plaid Cymru has committed to introduce a single tax for residential and commercial land (excluding agricultural land), the Welsh Conservatives have not sought any such reform. The Welsh Conservatives have instead promised to freeze council tax for at least two years and reform the formula that dishes out funding to local authorities.
In the shorter (and more realistic) term, Plaid has said it will undertake a revaluation and adjust the number of bands to cut the bills of average council tax payers. As Mark Drakeford has said he is attracted to rolling revaluation, it may now be within reach – if both parties are successful on election day – to embark on the first revaluation of council tax for over 15 years. We’ve gone into further detail about the politics surrounding council tax and why it’s such a difficult issue to address, in our note on the topic.
For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.
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