Welsh Government “dragging its heels” over Housing First

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s Local Government & Communities questions.

“Is this what 21st Century Socialism is all about?”

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) asked whether it was acceptable for rough sleepers to have their possessions taken from them and thrown in a van? While this was happening, there’s been criticism of the Welsh Government’s lacklustre approach to solving homelessness through the introduction of a “Housing First” system.

“Minister, time and time again, we see your Government delaying and dragging its heels on even basic social justice issues, whether that’s homelessness, air pollution or banning unfair letting agent fees. We only see action several years after the issue comes to your attention: endless task and finish groups, which don’t end up finishing anything; reviews that tell us what we already know, and finding ‘balances’ that have to be struck between the rights of vulnerable individuals and large organisations….Is this what 21st Century Socialism is all about?”
– Leanne Wood AM

Minister for Housing & Local Government, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), thoroughly rejected the assertion that nothing was happening, accusing Leanne Wood of hyperbole. Task and finish groups included hard-working experts who help develop policy. The issue with “Housing First” isn’t the housing as such but making sure people can sustain living there – including access to specialist services and employment.

The Minister refused to be bounced into doing something quickly; she prefers to do it properly.

Supporting and celebrating veterans

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), recently helped launch the first Welsh veterans’ awards to celebrate ex-forces personnel who’ve made the transition to civilian life and “gone above and beyond” in their relevant fields. Nevertheless, there remain issues, particularly in terms of housing veterans and their families after leaving service.

The Minister told AMs there was a programme specifically for veterans so they can live close to where they have roots:

“….what we want to have is a seamless pathway so that we can hand people on to the right agencies in the area. We’re very keen to make sure that we maintain local connections so people can go back to any community that they feel they have a local connection with, or indeed if they’ve made a life as part of being in the armed forces quarters somewhere else, that they’re able to maintain a connection with family and friends.”
– Minister for Housing & Local Government, Julie James

Louder local voices in the planning system

Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) asked about community involvement in the planning system, with some of her constituents worried about whether their views were properly considered as part of an appeal against a development at “The Canyons” near Pontypool.

Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) called for a similar system as Scotland, where people are engaged from the start of the planning process on what their respective communities actually need. Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) wanted to give communities a right to appeal planning applications.

The Minister couldn’t comment on live planning applications, but the Welsh planning system requires the views of local communities to be taken into account and for Local Development Plans to be approved democratically by councils.

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