In the first of a series of pieces looking at the major issues set to shape the battle for control of Cardiff council in May’s election, Brendan Hughes examines the rival parties’ plans to solve the city’s housing shortage.
How to tackle Cardiff’s complex housing issues looks set to be one of the major battlegrounds in the capital’s upcoming council elections.
Councillors are faced with the task of slashing the city’s housing waiting list, which has grown to around 11,000 applicants, compared with 6,500 about two years ago.
The next council will also have to deal with the thorny issue of creating a blueprint for the future development of the capital – the next local development plan (LDP).
National Assembly inspectors have ordered the council to find ways of providing housing land to cater for the city’s expected growth, yet the only available land is treasured by neighbouring residents.
The parties were generally keen to express their plans to provide more affordable family housing, but remained coy on releasing greenfield land.
The Liberal Democrat/ Plaid Cymru executive has made tackling the city’s housing problems one of its priorities, but it has been criticised for “lacking urgency and innovation” – and for causing delays to the introduction of the new LDP.
Under the direction of the city’s Lib Dem deputy leader Judith Woodman, the council has drawn up plans to embark on the city’s biggest large-scale housing scheme for almost three decades, spending £33m on new homes over the next five years.
It has also refused to transfer council housing to an independent social landlord, and boasted of spending £76.5m to hit Welsh Government housing standards for kitchens and bathrooms.
Coun Woodman said the council’s decisions had left the city better placed than other local authorities.
She said her party would consider suspending Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy scheme, which has seen the number of council houses fall from 26,000 in the early 1980s to about 13,600 today.
She said: “I believe we are on the right track to cut the housing waiting list and at the same time are creating jobs.”
Plaid Cymru group leader Neil McEvoy, deputy leader of the council, defended the decision to delay the LDP.
The Fairwater councillor said: “Housing should be planned as a region, instead of everything being crammed into Cardiff, with every available brown and green field site being built on. We need to protect the quality of life in the city.”
Conservative group and opposition leader David Walker said the current administration “needs to inject a sense of urgency” into developing social housing.
The Lisvane councillor said: “It has produced long and detailed housing strategies on a regular basis. These documents are worthless unless change takes place and we see real improvements.”
Labour group spokeswoman and Canton councillor Cerys Furlong said the Lib Dem/Plaid Cymru council had not been “innovative enough” in increasing the supply of affordable homes.
She said: “The inability or unwillingness to deliver the LDP is one of the greatest failures of this Lib Dem and Plaid administration.
“It has clearly been used for political purposes and a Labour council would prioritise the delivery of the LDP if elected.”
Rhiwbina councillor Adrian Robson, leader of the council’s independent group, “cautiously welcomed” the executive’s social housing plans.
He said: “Although it will have some impact on the waiting lists, we wonder if there is a better way of spending the money to have a greater impact. One of the methods we would look at is what involvement private sector owners, such as registered social landlords, could offer.”
Council tenant Luczira Borg, a 27-year-old single mum of three, said her flat has been covered in damp and mould for years.
She said the condition of the Grangetown council property was affecting her children’s health, with her youngest, 15-month-old boy Samia, making regular trips to the doctor with chest infections.
“There’s mould rotting away the clothes,” said Miss Borg, who also has a daughter Yasmin, four, and son Salvatore, 11.
“I have had to chuck them away. And when you come in there’s a smell.”
The damp in her two-bedroom home has also attracted silverfish insects, which Miss Borg said frequently crawl “all over the walls and all over the baby’s pram”.
The unemployed mum said: “They’re so fast there is nothing you can do to get rid of them – that’s caused through damp.”
Miss Borg moved in several years ago, but put her name back on the waiting list within seven months.
Coun Judith Woodman, executive member for communities, housing, said:
“A council inspector visited the accommodation in January and the tenant was advised about the works required to resolve the damp problem.
“Unfortunately, the tenant refused to allow the work to take place. Nevertheless, we are in the process of arranging with the tenant to inspect the property again.”