Wales politics

House firms building future slums, minister Julie James claims

House building Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Figures show house-building rates in Wales have suffered the biggest fall since the recession

A row has broken out after a Welsh Government minister accused the private house-building industry of creating the "slums of the future".

Julie James complained about "substandard" developments, during comments made at a conference.

The Home Builders Federation called for the minister to explain what she meant.

Ms James, housing minister, said she was simply warning house builders not to build the slums of the future.

Meanwhile latest figures show that, despite some hotspots in and around Cardiff and Newport, Wales has seen the biggest fall in house-building since the recession nearly a decade ago.

At the Tai 2019 conference in May, Ms James expressed concerns "about the size and quality of some of the homes being built in Wales by the private sector".

She said: "I want the private sector to stop building the slums of the future, because we have driven some developments here in Wales that I think in eight years' time we will have a whole pile of problems in.

"Because they are substandard and they do not have the services with them necessary to sustain them.

"We are not learning the lessons of the past in building those houses, and we need to ensure that government leverage is used to stop that happening, not to help it to happen."

The comments, which were initially reported by Inside Housing and which BBC Wales has heard a recording of, were applauded at the event.

Image caption Julie James said the Welsh Government wants communities, not estates

A letter from the Home Builders Federation Wales, which represents the house builders, said its members "were disappointed to learn" of Ms James' views.

It asked if she "could explain in more detail what prompted the comment".

"In particular, it would be helpful to understand whether your concerns relate to a specific development or if it was a general comment based on wider issues," the letter said.

The sector is "committed to delivering high quality and affordable homes and considerable progress has been made in recent years to improve purchasers' satisfaction with new homes," it added.

'Cramped and dense'

Ms James has said she was simply warning house builders not to build the slums of the future, and to ensure there is a mix of private and social housing with easy access to work and infrastructure.

Speaking to BBC Wales, she said: "What I was trying to do is say that what we want to build in Wales are communities - communities where people love to live and work.

"Sometimes we build things that are single tenure, they are a little bit cramped and look a bit dense. Not always, and it's patchy across Wales, but our new planning policy guidelines are making it very clear that we want a community and not an estate.

"So what I've said, actually, is don't build the slums of the future - make sure that what you build you're proud of [and] you'd like to live in yourself."

Image copyright Getty Images

Figures show the number of new dwellings completed in 2018-19 was 5,777, a drop of 13% on the previous year.

The last time there was such a big fall was during the recession in 2009-10.

According to the latest Welsh Government estimates, 8,300 new homes are needed in Wales every year over the next five years to cope with demand.

There are some striking regional variations in the latest figures.

For example, while the population of Cardiff is five times bigger than Blaenau Gwent, there were 10 times more homes built in the capital than in the valleys county.

The private sector provides about a quarter of all social housing, with the rest coming from housing associations and local authorities.

Overall, latest figures show there has been a 9% reduction in the number of affordable homes built in Wales.

The Welsh Government has a target of building an extra 20,000 affordable homes by 2021 but remains confident of meeting it, despite the recent fall.

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