Will the Minister make a statement on the availability of housing in local authorities across Wales?
Julie James AM, Minister for Housing and Local Government:
Yes. The need for housing continues to outstrip the number of homes available. With borrowing constraints now removed by Westminster—at long last and after much lobbying by us—and record low interest rates, we are working with local authorities to build at scale and pace, for the first time in a generation, to make more homes available across Wales.
Thank you, Minister. As was mentioned here in the Senedd yesterday, we've seen housing developments approved despite them falling outside the settlement boundary of local development plans. A key consideration allowing these is the obvious need for new homes. However, whilst controversial applications are receiving consent, it is true that Wales has an empty property problem. All local authorities in Wales have an empty home strategy and an action plan. Yet, despite this—and I would add that I've been here eight years now, and right from my very first week as an Assembly Member, I was raising concerns about the number of empty properties in Wales that would turn into very good homes for people who are waiting desperately—currently there are around 27,000 private sector and 1,400 social sector empty properties in Wales. Therefore, will you explain what further support you will give to local authorities and other agencies—registered social landlords—to go about helping them to bring these empty properties back into purposeful homes for those who desperately need them?
There's absolutely no excuse whatsoever for anybody in the social housing sector to have a void issue. We provide them with more than sufficient grants to bring those voids back into beneficial use. So, again, if you have specific examples of social housing in that position, I'd be really glad to see it, because there's something going very wrong there. I can assure you that no RSL or LSVT should be in a position where they can't bring their voids back into beneficial use.
In terms of the private sector, my colleague Lee Waters has been working very hard on a scheme to bring empty properties back into beneficial use by looking at loan schemes and a series of grant schemes so that we can find out why it's empty, find out who the owners are, and then find out what it would need to either buy it off them or bring it back into beneficial use. He's been working very hard on getting a number of pilot schemes running in that area.
We also encourage local authorities to act properly in terms of their council tax to make sure that they are levying the right amounts of tax on empty homes. It depends why the home is empty and my colleague Rebecca Evans is working very hard on the vacant land tax implications of some of this work. We're very keen that local authorities use all the levers that they have in order to bring homes back into beneficial use. We also have a number of grant schemes. We have schemes designed to bring homes back into beneficial use that private owners can access, and we have schemes for landlords that they can access as well. And if the Member wants to write to me, I'd be more than happy to provide her with details of those schemes.