Grand Designs: Additional £33million awarded to innovative housing projects

(Title Image: © Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-2.0)

Yesterday, the Minister for Local Government & Housing, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West) updated AMs on the innovative housing programme (IHP).

At the vanguard of innovation

The Minister told the chamber that Wales “was at the vanguard of housing innovation” and this year, she received bids to the IHP totalling £230million. She was particularly pleased to see collaborative projects emerge focusing on fuel poverty, zero-carbon homes and new building methods.

One project at Ruthin will see 76 zero-carbon homes built that will cost, on average, less than £80-a-year to heat and light. Meanwhile, a 214-home zero-carbon development at Rumney in Cardiff will be a mix of social and private housing.

“The IHP programme has now invested in 55 schemes to build social housing and affordable homes. The schemes I announce today see a further £33 million of funding invested, meaning 600 new homes will get underway this year – much-needed new homes, for those who need them most. I am also delighted to see schemes submitted from 19 different local authority areas. This demonstrates that in most areas of Wales there is now a growing willingness and appetite for change in the sector.”
– Minister for Local Government & Housing, Julie James

In a separate statement, the Minister hinted at rule changes to enable empty student flats to be converted to social housing; at the moment student flats fall short of social housing quality standards. The Minister also announced the establishment of a Welsh Government Land Division to help bring forward publicly-owned land for development.

A good approach

Opposition AMs were enthusiastic.

Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) said the fact the IHP was oversubscribed was a good sign. He did have a particular concern on the pace of development regarding modular housing:

“….this method has now once again shown itself to be of high quality, and great in the speed of delivery, just in terms of house building by this method compared to traditional ones….In Sweden, 84% of detached homes use manufactured timber elements; that compares to just 5% in the UK. Yet these forms of construction are greener, cheaper, come with many fewer defects, and also lend themselves to the sort of beauty that the Minister was talking about, and what we often see in television programmes like Grand Designs.”
– Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM

The Minister said there were some “great small modular (home) factories” around Wales rooted in their communities and it needed to develop like that instead of through large centralised factories.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) asked how these innovative developments were integrating with private developments to avoid the creation of “ghettos”? The Minister reassured Leanne that “mixed tenure” estates were prioritised by the Welsh Government in planning policy and it’s her ambition that nobody should be able to tell the tenure of a household from the outside of the building.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East), once again, made the case for councils to start building houses again – but cautioned that some innovative building methods (such as steel houses) “didn’t last 25 years”. Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) welcomed low-carbon housing but thought it was taking too much precedence over tackling the scale of housing shortages.

Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) called for more to be done to address the high demand for and lack of supply of single bedroom homes, while Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) hoped that housing associations will futureproof their housing stock by making it easier to add additional bedrooms or other adaptations (like lifts).

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