CONWY’S lack of affordable housing is worsened by a shortage of suitable sites for construction, says the council’s leader.
Leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey says Conwy County Council struggles to find suitable plots for housing, due to much of the county’s land existing on a flood plain or being in a protected area.
The current Local Development Plan (LDP) – the plan that plots what development can go where for a five-year period – is due to finish this year (2017-2022), and the new plan will go out to public consultation in early 2023.
Conwy’s leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey says the council is now looking at council-owned land that can be used for development.
“Unfortunately, Conwy has got the second-highest number of people in private rental properties (in Wales),” he said.
“So we rely heavily on the private sector, and obviously prices are going up and up and up, which creates an awful lot of pressure. We need to build more affordable houses, but that is a challenge in Conwy.
“In the east of the county, it is a flood plain, and in the west of the county, you’ve got a national park. We’ve got sites of special interest in the hills above Colwyn Bay, so it’s very difficult for us to find land where we can build on.
“We are really going to look to accelerate the delivery of affordable houses on sites that we own, and that will be our main drive going forward.”
Conwy has one of the oldest populations in the UK. Whilst the county is a desirable tourist area, Conwy is also a popular retirement area where house prices are being driven up and beyond the affordability of most young families.
Cllr McCoubrey says properties left empty by elderly residents are also slowing down the housing market, a problem the council is working hard to resolve.
“We need to target houses in order to support younger families to stay here,” he said.
“We are a very popular area to retire to, and that drives prices up. It’s a difficult problem. We have appointed extra housing officers, so we are really keen to make sure when properties are empty, we get them back into use as quickly as possible.
“It’s more of a problem in Conwy than other areas because of our older population. Our population of over 65s is higher than the national average. The result is when people pass away, the houses are empty. It is a challenge for us. People do pass away, and then it takes time for the house to go through the market. So that is a problem, to maximise the stock we’ve got.
“In Conwy the average house price has rocketed since last year. That’s got more challenging for people. We don’t have many properties which are low rent.
“In Manchester and Liverpool, there are lots of little redbrick terraces. We just don’t have that, so it’s very difficult for people. In terms of numbers we build, the numbers are set in terms of population growth. With affordable housing, it’s very much that we target local need. We look after the people here already, the people on the waiting list. But it is a challenge.”
Cllr McCoubrey said the number of affordable houses was set in the LDP and agreed upon by Welsh Government. But he said the council negotiated with developers in trying to get the greatest number of affordable homes possible.
“It (the number of affordable houses) is set out in the local development plan,” he said.
“Each area will have a designated percentage. In Llandudno, it’s 35%. In Abergele it was 10%. A lot of that is to do with legislation relating to how expensive properties are, so there are set figures you work to, but there are also issues when developers talk about affordability and taking houses forward, so there is a negotiation there, but we have to follow planning legislation. The LDP goes to Welsh Government for approval to be signed off, so it has to go in front of an examiner to decide if it’s fit for purpose or not.”
He added: “We need to maximise the land we own that’s in our control, but a lot of that comes down to how much money Welsh Government gives us. So it’s a constant fight to find the land and bring the plans forward. Houses cost money. It’s complicated. Some things are in our control and some things not.”