Each of the main parties in Wales agrees on the need to build more houses, provide more affordable housing and ensure that homes can be made as energy efficient as possible. But the main ideological difference is in their approach to home ownership. The Welsh Conservatives indeed describe themselves as the ‘party of home ownership’ while Labour say they are committed to a strong mix of social and private housing.
Welsh Labour entered the 2011 Assembly Election after being in coalition with Plaid Cymru. The One Wales Government had set a target of creating 6,500 affordable homes, and in their 2011 manifesto both Labour and Plaid take credit for exceeding that target.
In their 2011 manifesto Labour didn’t commit to a figure but pledged to help deliver the extra homes required to meet increased housing need. By their 2015 manifesto for the General Election Welsh Labour refer to achieving 70% of their target of 10,000 homes during this present Assembly. Plaid in their manifesto for 2011 pledged to create another 6,500 affordable homes.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats in 2011 focused more on improving the existing housing stock but by their 2015 General Election manifesto was of the view that the Welsh Labour Government’s target of 10,000 new affordable homes was inadequate. They pledged to set targets for the number of affordable homes that should be built in Wales during an Assembly term – to be set by Ministers within six months of an Assembly election and reported annually to the Assembly.
The Welsh Greens also in their 2011 manifesto focused on increasing the supply of housing from existing stock, but by their 2015 manifesto pledged to significantly increase the number of social rented homes built every year.
UKIP in its Welsh manifesto for the 2015 General Election included a pledge to build one million homes on brownfield sites throughout the UK by 2020.
Labour, Plaid and the Greens are all of the view that a shortage in social housing stock stems historically from the Conservative policy of Right to Buy. Labour has signalled its intention to scrap the scheme in the next Assembly, and has already reduced the maximum discount available to tenants to buy their council or housing association property from £16,000 to £8,000. The Wales Green Party pledged in 2011 and again in its 2015 manifesto to end the policy. In 2011 the Liberal Democrats pledged to protect any new social housing from being sold under the policy for a minimum of twenty five years in areas where it was needed. The Conservatives’ plans during the 2015 General Election to extend Right to Buy to housing association tenants was denounced by Plaid Cymru during the campaign.
The Welsh Conservatives and UKIP are the only parties to have pledged to protect Right to Buy – UKIP going further in their 2015 manifesto to restrict it to British Nationals.
All the main parties agree on the need to help people get on the housing ladder. The Welsh Liberal Democrats claim to have forced the Welsh Government into adopting a Help to Buy equity loans scheme. They and Plaid have had policies to help people who rent save towards a deposit – a Rent to Own scheme and Rent Now Buy Later scheme respectively.
In February 2015 the Welsh Government signalled its intention to extend its Help to Buy scheme beyond 31 March 2016. The Welsh Conservatives in their 2015 manifesto pledged to make a long-term commitment to the policy but also promised to freeze council tax in Wales to enable people to save for a deposit.
Council Tax is highlighted as a tool to alleviate housing shortages by most of the parties. Plaid and the Greens in their 2011 manifestos pledged to allow local authorities to charge up to 200% council tax on empty properties and second homes as a disincentive, so that more properties become available. In July 2015 the Welsh Conservatives went further than their General Election commitment and promised a six-month holiday from council tax to first-time buyers in Wales, should they form a government in 2016.
In the Housing (Wales) Act of 2014 the Labour Government did indeed give councils the power to charge a higher rate of council tax on long-term empty properties. The Act also introduced a compulsory registration scheme for private landlords, and a Bill to more clearly define the responsibilities of landlords – the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill – is presently at Stage 2. The main parties commit to protecting the rights of tenants in both private and public sectors, with pledges on compulsory written or minimum tenures. The Greens want to democratise tenant participation in housing management. UKIP want to prioritise social housing for those with local connections to an area.