Community led solutions to the housing crisis
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to chair an event on housing organised through the Environment Network for Pembrokeshire
The well attended session focused on the potential for local initiatives to respond to the need for homes that are both affordable to buy/rent, and which are low carbon in design and use.
The event was set against the context of a county with 3687 on the housing waiting list, below average incomes, above average house process, high numbers of second homes, around 140 affordable homes being provided each year, a significant out migration of young people, a rapidly aging population with high levels of fuel poverty and the need to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
The stimulus for the discussion was provided by the examples of the Pentre Solar village , a community led affordable homes development in Marloes and the potential of cohousing Hafen Las Cohousing. The discussion highlighted the potential for local community led developments, that can deliver significant benefits to the rural economy and provide high quality, affordable homes, if we can better support bottom up action by empowering communities. A number of key challenges and possible solutions were highlighted in the debate:
The cost and availability of land :
the exception site policy simply does not work; there should be a full audit of land and property holdings to identify potential sites in public ownership; we need a real focus on establishing Community Land Trust as a high priority policy, using current RDP funds to initiate
The availability of low cost investment capital:
Finance Wales simply does not meet the needs as rates are far too high; there must be ways in which Government can offer low interest capital investment at this time of rock bottom interest rates; need to look at innovative finance models that can unlock the personal financial resources in local communities which are currently getting very low returns.
The skills and capacity needed for low carbon build:
Pentre Solar has gone through the learning and provides a model for low cost development which also builds local skills and uses local natural resources “trees to keys”
Enabling greater focus on local place planning:
The role of Place Plans needs to be given a much higher priority with support for Community Councils and strengthening the local action plans supported by PLANED. Place plans are referenced in Planning Act but do not have recognised role in planning in Wales. There seems to be a much greater legislative support for enabling community action in England and Scotland eg the example of village design statements in Sedgemoor
There is scope for innovation and leadership from local planning authorities
Examples such as the support for self-build from Teignmouth Council provides good examples – in this case promoting the important contribution of self-build
Is there scope for greater use of compulsory purchase orders and potential to apply some of the elements of the New Town Planning Act (2015) in England to Welsh legislation?
The important role of co-housing;
Co-Housing has an important role in helping to alleviate the pressures on social care and increasing problems of loneliness. There are no examples in Wales as yet but models to be adopted such as the UK's first affordable ecological cohousing project
These points summarise the rich range of ideas raised and a clear agenda for follow up action to make addressing rural housing needs a key driver for rural economic development. There was a strong view that this needed a different approach. from the top down, developer driven models that dominate housing policy. Housing Associations have a key leadership role and Pembrokeshire Housing Association was well regarded by participants.
It requires public bodies to demonstrate innovation, flexibility and partnership with local community and a shift from we know best attitudes. A Welsh Government leadership to enable local action will be important. A framework for Local Community Housing Action Plans which includes guidance on powers that are available, suggests that communities should be empowered and how, and identifies innovative practice would be a good start