An article from the Daily Post today highlighted a recent Welsh Assembly Government report which confirms thousands of migrants from England are using a loophole in the Welsh housing points system to jump the queue for social housing in Wales. Currently Welsh local authorities give priority to people who are classed as homeless and also those who are released from prison (unlike Wales, there is no housing priority for ex-offenders in England), the guidelines generally state that people only have to be resident in Wales for six out of the last 12 months to receive priority for housing.
The study included Anglesey, Ceredigion, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Gwynedd. According to the Daily Post:
"It found that most incomers move from Merseyside, Manchester and the West Midlands to towns like Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl, Prestatyn, Caernarfon, Pwllheli and Aberystwyth."
Well over 6000 migrants had moved into these counties between mid 2005 and 2008.
Although Wrecsam was not included in this study, the same concerns were voiced by local councillors here about six months ago during scrutiny committee and executive board meetings discussing changes to the local points system, with the vast majority of councillors arguing for local people to receive much more priority for social housing than they do currently. Council officers opposed many of the proposals put forward due to potential clashes with statutory legislation that gives ex-offenders and those classed as homeless priority for housing.
The same issues were voiced by many councillors, especially those from the villages around Wrecsam where social housing is particularly scarce. They were clearly angered at the current system which sees local people who have been on waiting lists for years by passed for homes within their own communities. In Wrecsam changes were made to the points system but unfortunately they still don't go far enough.
Social housing stock has decreased dramatically in Wales since the right to buy scheme was introduced by Thatcher, this housing was never replaced and we're now left with huge waiting lists and many thousands of people desperate for homes. Affordable housing, either to buy or to rent, has not been a priority for our local authorities, yet precious land resources have consistently been sold off for private development seemingly without concern. In areas like Wrecsam where there have been huge amounts of non-affordable development over recent decades, we will no doubt be looking to develop parts of the green barrier in the future to cater for our own local housing need which has been largely ignored to date.
To make matters worse, the vast majority of local people have been completely priced out of the general housing market. Studies in North East Wales attribute the dramatic house prise rises in recent years to the in-migration of a wealthier population from the North West of England. In areas like Wrecsam the buy-to-let market has also created another barrier, with private landlords increasing prices well beyond local reach. Both WAG and local authority policy is also clearly geared to attracting large amounts of in-migration, with housing projections for our local development plans being heavily based on past in-migration trends and development plans such as the North East Wales/West Cheshire sub-regional strategy further exploiting the inequalities in the housing market.
There are inevitable knock-on effects to the current housing crisis we face, especially in terms of these large increases in population. There is massive pressure on community cohesion, the environment, pressure on services such as hospitals, doctors, dentists, roads etc and the obvious impact on our identity and language. I never fail to be amazed when I ask questions about the studies there have been into these issues to find that very few have ever been acknowledged let alone explored, yet the current thinking is to carry on regardless.
There can be no doubt that the people of Wales are suffering because of policy dictating that we must cater for the housing wants of another, wealthier country. All aspects of housing in Wales must be scrutinised and reformed to ensure that the discrimination that currently exists is urgently addressed. Whether it be the lack of affordable housing, holiday homes or commuter estates, many of our communities and services in Wales are being stretched to breaking point. This cannot be considered sustainable in any way shape or form.
As a councillor who hears regularly from local people struggling to access any form of housing in the area I would say this: providing basic needs such as a home for the local population is not difficult, although many members of the civil service will stress the opposite at length. This hurdle has been cleared quite comfortably for the last several thousand years. All that is needed is a bit of common sense, ensuring our systems are fair and not open to exploitation and a shift in thinking across government that doesn't give priority to developers profit margins but instead to the needs of the local population.