Wales: The state of play and our call for planning reform.

Post-election Kafuffle

The Welsh Assembly elections last month culminated in a Labour minority Government being backed up by the one remaining Lib Dem AM and casual support from the increased Plaid Cymru contingent.

wales makeup 16
Full make-up of the Welsh Assembly – 2016 Election

 

In return for this propping up, Lib Dem Kirsty Williams secured herself a Cabinet position as Education Secretary while Plaid made a deal that sets up three liaison committees to “formalise joint working on future priorities.”

But what does this all mean for the PRS in Wales? Well hopefully very little. There has been no mention of the sector throughout the negotiations, and the “progressive agreement” reached between Labour and the Lib Dems doesn’t touch upon it either.

Labour never mentioned it in their manifesto pre-election so it would seem they are content with changes already made through the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. However, as with the Housing & Planning Act in England, there is still plenty to be done through secondary legislation.

The devil is in the detail…

The whole raft of regulations that are set to be spawned from the Renting Homes (Wales) Act will include electrical safety checks, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, a streamlined abandonment procedure, and many more.

However, the most important question for landlords with properties in Wales will be how exactly the Government will define the “fit for human habitation” requirement – a standard that all rented properties will have to achieve and maintain before and during tenancies.

The NLA will be representing landlords to try to ensure that any regulations that come out of this Act are not over-burdensome on landlords in their pursuit to drive up standards. The main worry on this front is now that the minority Labour government is relying on informal support from Plaid, they could be pulled towards stronger regulations.

Plaid said in their manifesto:

“We will raise the legal requirements for the condition of privately rented homes, to ensure that all rented properties are of a decent standard.”

This could go beyond having a lack of hazards and, with their new influence over the Labour Government, they could force regulations to become more hard-line than they were originally intended to be. Let’s not forget, this is the party that loudly advocates for rent controls in Wales.

Our call for planning reform

On the proactive side of things, the NLA is looking for recent changes in Welsh planning regulations to be tweaked just a little to bring them in line with England, and reduce the damage they could do to the sector.

On 25th February 2016 two orders came into effect that created a new use class (C4) for Houses in Multiple Occupation (3-6 people), and granted permitted development rights when changing use from a small HMO to a dwelling house (C3).   As such, current rules impose a blanket requirement for planning permission in order to change use from a domestic house to a small HMO in Wales.

These changes place an unnecessary regulatory burden on the private rented sector (PRS) in areas that do not have problems with HMOs, enforcing a one-size-fits-all policy on local planning systems that deters investment in much needed low-cost housing. This could have knock-on effects that damage not only the labour market, but also councils’ ability to discharge their homelessness duties.

You can read our full briefing on the issue here.

The same policy was adopted in 2010 by the then Labour Government. However, soon after coming into power the Coalition Government, recognising the damaging effects this would have on low-cost housing across the country (and honouring the Conservative’s pre-election pledge to the NLA), granted permitted development rights for changes of use from C3 to C4 later that same year.

We have already written to the ministers, regarding our proposal, and look forward to receiving a constructive response.

 

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