Housing is now a cold, exploitive investment business, in which many people have stakes. The housing market has been disconnected from society and our environment.

MPs in Westminster are acutely aware that a booming housing market is popular with influencers and the public, and many are themselves landlords. Popular UK government policies such as ‘Help to Buy’ and ‘HomeBuy Direct’, have all been designed to keep prices rising.

Meanwhile, rising rents - as landlord maximise their returns - are preventing an increasing number of people from saving to step onto the property ladder; then the landlords use their unearned income to increase their property portfolios.

There should be enough property for everyone in Wales to have a  satisfactory space, but more than 28,000 dwellings stand empty, while thousands more have been repurposed as second homes or holiday lets, and as a result are underoccupied. 

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And because property prices are rising, profits can still be accumulated on empty and underutilised properties, and as a result are assets on a balance sheet.

The problems of housing affordability and availability have resulted in people making longer trips to places of work and education, increasing the use of cars, and resulting in social and environmental harm.

Planning policy in Wales has enabled tens of thousands of new dwellings to be built in the past decade, resulting in the growth of supply far outpacing demand, but because of UK government policies, affordability for first-time buyers continues to decline.

We have lost huge areas of green open space and we have failed to tackle the housing crisis.

Much of the Section 106 money collected from developers (intended to improve local areas), has been swallowed up in providing the infrastructure needed by new developments; the value of this is then absorbed by the new housing.

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Welsh local authorities are being encouraged to increase their housing stocks but buying land and existing housing is expensive.

In order to provide socially rented housing, the Vale of Glamorgan Council, for example, has identified all the parcels of land it owns across the county.

This includes the village green at Bonvilston, which has been used for play and amenity for 70 years and is home to mature trees and a population of newts. The Vale Council wants to build ten houses on the village green.

The proposed dwellings suffer from a deficiency of private amenity space because the council wants to cram as many as possible into a small area.

The council says this is acceptable due to a surplus of nearby public open space, but this consists of private sports pitches five miles away in the village of Wenvoe and three miles away at the National Trust’s Dyffryn Gardens. Aside from a graveyard, there isn’t an alternative public open space within easy walking distance of the village.

Bonvilston is a microcosm of what is happening across the whole of Wales.

Local Development Policy is clearly in favour of protecting such spaces from development. Planning Policy Wales, updated in 2020, states that recreational spaces are vital for our health, well-being and amenity. It says that “planning authorities should protect playing fields and open spaces which have significant amenity or recreational value to local communities from development.”

Planning Policy Wales also states that green public spaces contribute towards the goals of the Future Generations Act, in other words - a resilient Wales and a healthier Wales.

And yet, people are fighting to save greens, sports pitches, meadows and woods from development throughout the country.

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The Future Generations legislation has failed to change decision-making outcomes. 

There is much criticism that the declaring of climate and nature emergencies hasn’t been followed by significant action. Radically changing both the planning and housing systems is vital, yet few politicians are courageous enough to take the hugely difficult decisions that are needed. 

The housing crisis isn’t going to be resolved until we have radical reform of the housing system, but despite the obvious problems, there are too many influential people protecting their own interests for the necessary changes to occur. The same is true of the actions needed to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. 

Councillor Ian Perry is the Chair of Bonvilston Community Council

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