Housing – Delivering Positive Change to Wales’ Infrastructure

Thirty4/7 Communications, Burges Salmon and Barton Willmore facilitated an industry discussion with National Infrastructure Commission Wales (NICW) on issues affecting the sustainability and deliverability of Wales’ current and future housing stock as the country moves towards a carbon-free future.

On the 12th June 2019 housing industry leaders and key stakeholders in Wales met with the National Infrastructure Commission Wales to discuss how to deliver positive change to Wales’ planning system and existing approach to the country’s infrastructure development to achieve a low carbon future.

This was the second in a series of round table events with NICW focused on understanding the drivers and constraints to delivering against the commitments made in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, and amidst announcements that Welsh Government will target ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. Addressing the future delivery of sustainable, carbon reduced housing is key to achieving this target.

Will Morgan, Director of Thirty4/7 Communications chaired the event, which heard from event partners Liz Dunn, Partner at Burges Salmon LLP, Mark Roberts, Planning Director at Barton Willmore, and Auriol Miller, Director at Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA).

John Lloyd Jones OBE, Chair of NICW introduced the Commission and set out the remit and aims of the newly formed body in Wales. The NICW is keen to understand how to assist industry, and Welsh Government with finding a path to achieving the aspirations set out in numerous pieces of Welsh policy and legislation, such as the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and the recent Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales report.

He noted that Wales had a significant hurdle to overcome with its housing stock in that 40% of historic development is in places that are no longer suitable. With the disappearance of the coal industry, the significant numbers of houses in areas that no longer serve the industries they were built for and these areas are struggling. With a clear need to renew and re-fit houses with energy efficient, climate friendly stock, there is a challenge to overcome in terms of cost.

“You cannot separate ‘Housing’ from the future economic growth of Wales” John Lloyd Jones OBE (Chair, NICW)

Mark Roberts noted that delivery is one of the key issues in the residential housing sector at the moment. He explained that the planning system, land supply constraints and moving projects through the pre-application process were all areas that needed to be addressed if Wales was to successfully deliver its housing commitments. A joined-up approach to strategy and plan-making across the sectors is critical to ensure that infrastructure initiatives such as the Cardiff Metro are accounted for in development plans to assist in unlocking key housing sites.

Liz Dunn noted that housing is a class of infrastructure in its own right, and given Wales’ commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, housing needs to be treated in the same way as nationally significant infrastructure projects. Achieving this level of carbon reduction in the required timeframe is a real challenge, and housebuilders – along with local authorities and relevant stakeholders – need to completely revolutionise the way houses are delivered. Housing developers also need clarity and detail about how to consent housing projects in order to ensure certainty around delivery and viability.

Auriol Miller and Hywel Lloyd of the IWA explained that recent work set out in its Re-energising Wales report shows that the issue of de-carbonising the country cannot be addressed by focusing on any one single issue – it needs to be a cross -sector approach, and there are a number of specific points set out in the report that should be considered.

“Housing is a key nexus for sustainable future development in Wales.” Auriol Miller, (Chief Executive, IWA)

Discussion from other attendees including representatives from private regional and national housebuilders, RSL’s and housing associations revolved around delivery. There was general consensus that one of the biggest pinch points and constraints to development came during the planning process and securing consent from the local planning authorities. This has additional cost implications on Welsh developers who are already squeezed due to lower house prices than in England. There is a risk that the national housebuilders will pull out of Wales if further requirements for sustainable elements (like energy generation/carbon neutral homes) are imposed without proper assessment of the market.

James Williams, Founder of Sero Homes noted that costs were a sticking point, but that there is a way around it. Addressing the carbon emissions through reviewing the approach to house building is key. This has to be a priority for new houses being built – it may cost a bit extra at the outset, but most of the climate friendly improvements are much cheaper to incorporate into a new build, than to retrofit on existing housing.

“Carbon neutral housing is low hanging fruit in the mission to become carbon neutral by 2050” James Williams, Founder, Sero Homes

Will Morgan, Director at Thirty4/7 Communications said: “This is clearly a very important area and one that needs to be grappled with right away to bring all parties on board. Housing delivery is vital, and the part it has to play in the low carbon agenda is central to meeting the commitments of ‘net zero’ by 2050. Industry needs to work closely with policy makers to raise the areas of concern and find ways to address this in emerging legislation – proper dialogue through the Wales NDF process is for example is key.”

This was the second of three events organised with the National Infrastructure Commission Wales, each on a different topic. The next event on ‘Transport’ takes place in July. If you would like to find out more about the issues discussed, or would like to attend an upcoming discussion, please contact Thirty4/7 Communications at