Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

13/07/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas MS
Jayne Bryant MS
Joel James MS
John Griffiths MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS
Sam Rowlands MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Judith Cole Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Polisi Cyllid Llywodraeth Leol a Chynaliadwyedd, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director Local Government Finance Policy and Sustainability, Welsh Government
Julie James MS Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Rebecca Evans MS Y Gweinidog Cyllid a Llywodraeth Leol
Minister for Finance and Local Government
Richard Baker Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Tir, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director Land Division, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Jonathan Baxter Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Manon George Clerc
Clerk
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd
Researcher

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:02.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:02.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Okay. Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. The meeting is being held in a hybrid format, but, aside from adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that hybrid format, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. Public items are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No.

2. Ymchwiliad i asedau cymunedol—sesiwn dystiolaeth 4: Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd a’r Gweinidog Cyllid a Llywodraeth Leol
2. Inquiry into community assets—evidence session 4: Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Finance and Local Government

Then we will move on to item 2, which is our inquiry into community assets and our fourth evidence session, and I'm very pleased to welcome Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, together with officials, Richard Baker, deputy director of the land division in Welsh Government, and, joining us virtually, Judith Cole, deputy director of local government finance policy and sustainability. Welcome to you all.

Perhaps I might begin, then, with some initial general questions. We know that very recently—a few weeks ago—Welsh Government issued a statement on communities policy, which included the aim of developing new co-productive ways of working with our communities, and the programme for government contains a commitment to support co-operative housing, community-led initiatives and community land trusts. So, I'd like to begin by asking how community assets and community ownership are being considered in the development of the Welsh Government's wider community policies and programme for government commitments, just to give a bit more sense of what those commitments will mean.

Shall I start, Chair?

Great. Thank you. In your opening remarks, you referenced the written statement that was published jointly between myself, Julie James and Jane Hutt recently, and I think that that really speaks to the cross-Government nature of this work and the fact that we and our officials right across Government are looking for opportunities to drive forward this agenda across all portfolios, because I think that there is certainly plenty of scope for action. And part of what we're doing at the moment is re-energising the cross-cutting community policy board. So, originally, that was brought together in 2019, but then of course the pandemic came hot on the heels of that, so the work there was, unfortunately, I think, slowed down. It did meet three times since November 2021, so it has started to be re-energised as the pandemic has lessened. But that, I think, is going to be one of the driving areas for taking forward this particular policy across Government. It will be looking at a number of things, including how community action can substantially contribute to our programme for government commitments, how community policy will assume that communities are place based, but also that communities of interest are also important. And the primary focus of the board will be looking at policy development, looking at maximising the policies that we currently have rather than developing a new set of programmes.

09:05

So, just to add that it's important in a range of really quite diverse policies, so it's quite hard to do a—. We could talk for the hour about the diverse possibilities, but, just to give you a couple of examples, clearly it's important in housing in developing a mixed community, so we don't want single-tenure communities of any sort. So, co-operative and community-led housing is important in a mix of social housing, private sector housing, and so on. In energy, you'll know that one of our stated aims is to make sure that the profits from the generation of renewable energy, because the energy itself is obviously lovely to have, but there's obviously profit to be made from it—. One of our stated aims is to make sure that we have a just transition away from fossil fuels, so energising our communities and making sure that they're engaged enough to be able to take advantage of community offers, community ownership offers and so on, is really important. And then on the second homes thing, for example, we've just employed two people to work with the community to come together to do a range of things, and that's actually in Jeremy Miles's portfolio and the Welsh language housing plan, in particular. So, that's a range of extremely diverse policies, all of which having an engaged and energised community is absolutely central to, so you can see how cross-cutting it is.

Shall I add as well, Chair, that we've undertaken a mapping exercise across Government, looking at policies and programmes where community policy is at the heart? We've found already over a hundred, and Julie's given us a few examples there. It's absolutely central to so much of what we want to deliver.

Is that something you might share with us, Minister, that mapping exercise?

We can certainly look to share some more information about that. This particular piece of work is being led by Jane Hutt's department, but, by its very nature, it's cross-Government, so we'll look to see what more we can share on that.

Okay, thank you very much. Just in terms of the housing element, I think you're on record, Minister—Julie James—as saying that house building very often tends to be quite formulaic, with the bigger developers building as has traditionally suited them, really, and that you want a lot more diversity, a lot more mix in the picture in Wales. So, it can be very important for community regeneration and a community sense of its ownership of its own local area, Minister, I think, if we have community-led, in one form or another, housing initiatives. How significant might they be, do you think, in the overall mix? What sort of scale might we be hoping for?

The biggest problem for community land trusts or co-operative housing is the land itself. All the times we speak to all of the groups who are involved in this, and there are many across Wales, access to land is always the first thing that they talk about. So, one of the things we've been doing—you know we're developing what we call 'exemplar sites' on Welsh Government-owned land, so Richard's land division has been in charge of that for us—and one of the things we've been looking to do is to see if we can get co-operative or community-led housing as part of that, because trying to get that access to land has been a big issue. We've also been working with local authorities—when I was local government Minister, and now Rebecca when she is—to try and identify other public sector land that could be utilised for that, and it's actually a pretty large part of what we're trying to do up in Dwyfor in our second-home pilot area, looking to see what land is available for community action so that we can get the affordable locally owned housing that is so desperately needed in many parts of Wales. So, the biggest issue for us is discovering ways of getting that land access, and we've got a number of things with something called Ystadau Cymru, which I think I might let Richard tell you all about, because he's much more involved with it than I am, at an operational level.

Can I come in on that? So, on the land side of things, in terms of our existing land portfolio, we're definitely looking at a mixed delivery model, and it will have communities engaged in that process, and we will be looking to enable some of that land to be available for community-led development. But we're also conscious of the fact that there is challenge around availability of land, so we are currently looking—. We've got some funding available this year to acquire more sites, so we're doing a land search at the moment. And we are going to be focusing on those communities, or those areas, where we have identified that there's a real challenge in terms of affordable housing and for communities to be able to access land. So, again, we're going through that exercise and, clearly, we will be engaging with the relevant communities then as to how we take that forward.

In terms of the Minister's reference to Ystadau Cymru, that's a pan-public sector asset management group. It's about how we make best use of our public sector assets. So, again, we're looking at the availability of our assets, and how we can use our assets to support public policy outcomes. Land division has been established by Government on the remit of focusing on increasing the delivery of public policy outcomes from our land portfolio, rather than focusing on maximising capital receipts. So, again, that's something I'm sure we'll come to under social value and those kinds of issues later. I think we're being very proactive in this area at the moment.

09:10

How much funding is available, then, for the purchase of land?

So, this year, we've got a fund of around £20 million [correction: £10 million], but, obviously, we've got that on a rolling programme for the next three years, hopefully. I think that will be fine in terms of what we're trying to target. We're not targeting the big sites, we're trying to target those smaller sites, which will probably be very important to local communities across Wales, and it's unlocking those sites as well. The other thing we have got is a land and buildings fund where we're helping other public bodies to unlock their portfolio as well. Again, we provide them with the funding, but, in return, we want them to buy into our objectives in terms of increasing affordable housing, the quality of the housing and community housing as well.

That's a slightly separate fund. That's a £10 million fund.

The point on that, Chair, is we have a range of funds aimed at the housing market, all of which are available to community housing, but they're also available to other developers. So, for example, we've got the stalled sites fund, and that's a fund where—. We have land all over Wales that's been earmarked in the LDPs of the local authorities for housing for many iterations of the LDP in some cases. So, we've been working with the local authorities to understand what is stopping that land coming forward for housing, because we badly need the land supply. Often, it's because it's contaminated land, or there's some other big problem with it—it has a main gas pipe running through the middle of it, or it has some major issue with why it's too expensive to develop. And then, we have funds that people can access to remediate that problem, whatever the problem is, in order to be able to bring the land forward, because no SME or even, actually, a big developer is going to take land that requires upfront expenditure of that sort before planning to remediate it. So, we've got a number of different sets of money around the place, looking at different problems in our various housing issues around Wales. And, to be honest, we've been putting some pressure on the local authorities to make sure that the land that was earmarked for housing in their LDP was actually capable of having housing it. I'm afraid I'm not going to name the council, Chair—I'm sure you're bound to ask me—but we have discovered a council with land earmarked for housing on a near cliff, which is clearly never going to come forward. And you'll know that we've also redone the methodology by which the local authority now has to assess its housing need. So, all of those are policies aimed at making sure that we have land for housing supply in each area of Wales. I'm saying this quickly as if it's been easy, but it's been a hard-fought battle, as Richard will tell you, to do a lot of this.

And then the other thing is we'll be able to keep our SME house builders engaged and viable. So, actually providing that kind of funding, where they can do the remediation for us, it fills in, because they have a cash flow that does this. So, if we can fill in some of the troughs for them, it makes them more viable as a company, and also we can connect them then to community groups that can help them do the build, because you've also got to find—. Even if you've got the land, you've then got all the problems with planning and building and so on. It's very difficult to say that it's this particular fund, because a lot of them are more general funds looking at unlocking housing, but they're available to community groups and land trusts in the same way as they are to other developers.

And then the last thing I would say is that we encourage people who want to do co-operative housing or community land trusts to partner with a registered social landlord, because the registered social landlord then brings access to the SHG, as we call it—the social housing grant—and it brings access to the skill base of the RSL, which community land trusts, frankly, just can't afford; it would cost them an enormous amount of the small amount of funds they had. I'm sure the committee has heard of the one in Solva—that's the famous one. So, they're partnered with an RSL in order to be able to bring that forward, and they would not have been able to do that without that.

09:15

No. Okay. Would it be possible for you to provide a note to the committee, Minister, on those various pots of money that might be brought to the table?

I'm sure my officials would be delighted to do a list of all of the funds that could be used.

Yes, it sounds like quite a complicated picture. Perhaps I could just ask as well about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, because I think one of the criticisms we hear of the Act is that it sort of sits up there somewhere up in the ether but doesn't always have a great deal of impact on the ground. I'm just wondering what you see is the relevance of that legislation to this area of activity and how it links with community policy on these matters?

So, I would say it's critical and it really lends itself, I think, to this particular area of work. Even though the future generations Act is obviously the lens through which we look at all of our policy development, but thinking about working for the long term and also collaboration, I think, really do lend themselves to community policy in particular, especially the co-designing of projects, listening to people to see what the community wants rather than deciding what the community should have. I think that's very much in the spirit of the working of the future generations Act and that collaborative approach. To support this, we published some research in June, which then also helped us in terms of informing best practice for place-based approaches to community engagement and support, and, again, that was very much through the lens of the future generations Act to bring that Act to life in community policy.

And, actually, the Act is the strategic foundation, if you like, of quite a lot of the other documents that we rely heavily on. So, it's a thread running through 'Future Wales', for example, the overarching strategic plan for Wales, and it runs through 'Planning Policy Wales', the whole 20-minute communities, lovely places to live, work, et cetera, that's all based on the—if you remember the work that was done on the original well-being of future generations stuff—'The Wales We Want'. That's the thread that runs all the way through it, so it's a fundamental basis of a large amount of what we do in terms of the hard documents that drive the planning system as well as the strategic overview.

And, in terms of thriving Welsh language communities, I think it's absolutely critical as well, bearing in mind the importance that local pubs, local shops and so on can play in some Welsh language and rural communities in particular, and, obviously, affordable housing in those communities is a real concern, as Julie's been setting out as well. So, we're currently investing in pilot projects with Gwynedd and Pembrokeshire, through Cwmpas, to pilot some projects that are seeking to maintain that strong Welsh language within those communities, through community policy.

Okay. Thanks for that. And any further detail you can provide on any of that would be very useful.

Just on the Cwmpas point, Chair, they produced—I'm sure you know—a report very recently about this. We've actually responded to that report and written to them. I'm very happy to share that letter with the committee, if that would be helpful.

It would. Thank you very much. Yes. Okay, we'll move on, then, to some other questions, and Carolyn.

Thanks for attending, Ministers. It's been really informative so far. I've heard quite a lot about all the different funding pots and what Welsh Government are doing, so, really interesting. You talked about Welsh Government having land for community house building. I have been asked would first-time developers, individuals, be able to use Welsh Government land in the future for self-build plots as well—you know, just like starter homes? And I'm not going off my question sheet here; I'm just jumping in, if that's okay.

On that one, we have a project called Self Build Wales, and that's the whole purpose of that. And that's sometimes one or two plots together; sometimes it's infill plots, and, basically, that works by—. As long as you build to one of the pre-approved plans—I can’t remember, but Richard will tell me how many there are; six, I think it is, patterns—then you have planning on the sites that have been identified, and then we basically help you get to the point where you’ve built it enough to get a mortgage. So, it’s a way of allowing people who wouldn’t have the funds upfront to self-build, because access to the capital is the biggest problem for them, as well as the land. So, we have a scheme. We can share that with the committee as well. Self Build Wales it’s called. It’s been running a while now. So, we do do that, Carolyn.

You’ll see that what we’re trying to do in all of those areas—and it’s the same for all our communities policy—is we’re trying to get a mixed range of levers to get the community to be as cohesive and as sustainable as possible, and you do that by having a big diversity of different housing tenures. Any area that’s got a single housing tenure, whether that’s an owner-occupier housing tenure or all social housing, tends not to be sustainable. You need to get a good mix, and we need to learn the lessons of the past there. Because if you look at the out-of-town developments where we have real problems with having to get in a car to do anything, they’re owner-occupied things, where developers have built a little enclave out here, and they’re sort of isolated. There’s one in your constituency; I always drive past thinking, ‘How did that get planning consent?’ You know, on the way out to the motorway at Fforestfach; that one. That’s not sustainable. What you need is a connected community of a diverse group of people who are able to bring different levels of socioeconomic activity and so on to that area. We know that they make the most sustainable places, and people report the best well-being outcomes from those mixed sustainable communities.

Just building on what Carolyn was asking me, what we’re doing is putting a different series of policy levers in, attempting to get that diversity into the community. Identifying those infill plots, for example, for self-build owner-occupiers is really important, and sometimes they’re in areas where there isn’t that much owner occupation. So, it’s a deliberate policy, and it goes alongside what Rebecca was saying at the beginning, and Jane Hutt’s portfolio is in charge of, which is building this community engagement and empowerment. Because often, a community needs help to start the process of becoming an engaged community, and that’s why we’ve employed the two officials up in north Wales to do the pilot in Dwyfor for the second homes. What they’re doing is building that community involvement and engagement so that we can have a community that’s able and willing to take advantage of some of the things that we’re putting in place.

09:20

Thank you. We’ve been listening to witnesses talk about issues with community asset transfer, mainly buildings, and there’s been a different approach across the 22 authorities, and some lack of consistency. It’s also been a long process for some, dealing with different departments at local authorities, having to deal with legal, assets, et cetera. I was wondering if there are any steps that Welsh Government could take to make it a more consistent approach. Also, some local authorities applied social value to the transfer, but others didn’t—they just looked at it as a value asset. Is there anything that Welsh Government could do to strengthen the future generations and well-being Act on social value so that local authorities in the main would apply that when looking at asset transfer to communities? Thank you.

I’ll start on this one. Obviously, local authorities have a really important part to play in supporting communities in respect of asset transfer. Our commercial procurement department within Welsh Government has commissioned research and advice from Cwmpas, and that was really around social value and trying to understand how well social value was even understood across the public sector in Wales. One of the findings was that there were different views as to what social value meant, and how it was driving local decisions. Again, if you haven’t seen that, we can share that with you. But that, I think, has been helpful in terms of shining a light on this from a local government perspective.

In local government, I think we do see different models emerging. So, some local authorities have established charitable trusts that then go on to manage their community assets, or they transfer them to existing trusts. I think a great example of that would be Bridgend, where Maesteg Town Hall and the operation of libraries in the area have been transferred to the Awen Cultural Trust. So, that's one example, but, as Carolyn says, there are different approaches. We do have guidance, but not every local authority has its own guidance. I think that there has been some criticism, which I'm sure you've heard, that not all local authorities are applying the guidance consistently. Maybe I'll ask Richard to say a bit more about the guidance and how we're trying to ensure that local authorities do have a more consistent approach to this. 

09:25

That's fine. The best practice guide was developed by Ystadau Cymru, but it was in response to a request from community leads; so it was from One Voice Wales and Wales Council for Voluntary Action representatives on the Ystadau Cymru board. They effectively drove the request for us to develop a guide. The 2019 guide is the second version of the guide, which is an iterative process, so we've tried to reflect a bit more of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 within that guide. The whole idea of that guide was to provide some consistency around this agenda, and we haven't cracked that. I think it's clear at the moment that there is inconsistency in terms of application across all local authorities.

Some local authorities have used the guide as their template for how they proceed with the community asset transfer process, but also it's obviously disappointing that some local authorities actually don't have a community asset transfer policy in the first place. So, I think that's the push we need to do—to ensure that local authorities, as a step 1, have a community asset transfer policy in place, and then what we need to work with them on is to have a consistent approach in terms of community asset transfers. 

I noticed a question about complexity and process. I think, again, it's an iterative process, and, as you get to the next version, I think, proportionality—. So, I think we need to have regard to the type of asset that's being sought to be transferred, and that we apply the appropriate governance around that kind of transfer so that it works. I think we're all in the same position that we want these transfers to be sustainable and work for the communities, and not be a future challenge or drain for the community. So, I think it is an important piece of work, that upfront bit, but I think proportionality is important around that. 

So, I think the guide has been successful to a point, but I think all the evidence we've seen coming through this committee review does tell us we need to do a further review, and to have some probably wider engagement in terms of the next draft so that we probably get some more community input into it as well, so that it works from both sides on that side of things. 

I was just going to add a very short point that Ystadau Cymru, as a next step, will be undertaking a review of the existing guidance, and I think that will help us see what's happening across Wales. 

Consistency of guidance is great, but, actually, one size just does not fit all here. So, we really do have to make sure that we take into account the ability of the community engaging in the work to have a sustainable asset transfer, or asset involvement; it doesn't necessarily have to be transfer. We have lots of examples around Wales of community councils looking after a village hall or a set of footpaths, but they haven't had the asset transferred to them—they've had the maintenance transferred to them so that they can do that. And actually, as the local authorities are more pressed for cash, that's a good idea, because otherwise it will get sucked into the big services, and the small things that make a local place really different, like the village hall, and so on, tend to get starved of cash if what you're doing is looking at the social services budget. For all of you who've been councillors, you'll know how that works. So, that kind of maintenance funding transfer can also work, and that's not the asset itself. So, I'm just saying that one size doesn't fit all. 

And then the other thing we do is we actually have a green recovery circular economy fund. We love to give them complicated names, I have to say; there's probably some sort of prize in Welsh Government for these things. But recently in Newtown, we had a really great collaborative community project where a Waste Not shop was developed, which is one of our repair and reuse things, by the community, right in the middle of Newtown. So, there's quite a diversity of things that the community wants to do with various 'assets'. They aren't necessarily the kind of typical thing that you'd expect to see, so it's not always a building, a library, a whatever. So, I just think, of course, the guidance should be consistent, and it should be transparent and easy to understand, but a one-size-fits-all approach might have very unintended consequences. So, we do have to make sure that we have the right approach for the right kind of asset.

09:30

The Newtown example, which Julie just gave, won our 2021 award with Ystadau Cymru as an example of best practice. Those awards are great, they're a real celebration of innovative practice and collaborative working. And our awards for this year—are they open?

They are open, yes.

So, if we have interested public bodies, we're keen to get as many examples of great practice as possible for those awards.

Can I make one further point on the community asset transfer guide?

I've got one more question, can I just—? There are quite a few questions to ask here.

Carolyn, just before you do, Richard just wanted to come in very quickly.

The guide at the moment is about the process of the transfer. What the guide doesn't contain at the moment is the upfront bit of the assets being made available and how they're being made available. So, I think there's an important piece of work there that the guide could get involved with, in terms of how public bodies declare the availability of assets or indeed declare that these assets will become available a year, 18 months down the line, which I think would be really helpful for communities to be aware of. So, that's something that we need to factor into the next version.

Absolutely, and that may well lead on to a further question from Carolyn.

That was it. I was going to ask if perhaps there could be a register of assets, because that was something else that was raised by the witnesses—knowing what assets were available. What do you think about having that register of assets, that mapping out of land and possible buildings? I was also interested to know about the role of voluntary councils as well, because they seem to be very helpful in certain areas with providing information and also access to funding. And that's me. Thank you.

All local authorities have to keep an asset register. I'm a bit ambivalent about the answer to that, if I'm honest with you, Carolyn, because you have to have an engaged community that wants to do something with an asset. I'm not sure that just cherry-picking from a list of things that might look interesting is quite the right approach. Those asset registers are available, you can look them up if you want to, so if you're interested you could already do that. I've got a slight worry about the idea of, 'We fancy a community asset transfer, let's have a look down this list.' It's better the other way up: 'Here's a building that isn't being looked after, it has a real importance to our community, we'd like to get more involved in it', and so on. They tend to be very specific—so, a shop that's underused in a city centre, or a village hall, or a footpath and bench, or whatever. I'm not really sure that I have quite—. I don't enjoy the idea of somebody going down a list and thinking, 'I think I'll have a go at the central library in Cardiff'.

I think maybe it's regarding ownership. So, who owns it, is it publicly owned, privately owned, et cetera.

The asset registers would only have what the local authority owned. It's their asset register, so that's public. Trying to find out who owns a particular piece of land involves having to pay the Land Registry to do the search for you. It costs a very small amount of money. Last time I did it, it was about £4.50, but that was a couple of years ago. It might be more than that now.

I would also highlight DataMapWales, which is a resource that maps our publicly owned assets, which is a useful resource. I think that some local authorities are very good in terms of being transparent about assets. Flintshire, for example, publishes a list of assets that they would consider expressions of community interest in taking over the running, development and managing of in future. As Julie says, it's not about creating a list that you can cherry-pick from, but I think the level of transparency can be helpful in giving local communities an understanding of what might be possible.

And, as you say, some local authorities are a lot more transparent in that respect than others.

Yes, but they all publish their asset lists; they have to do that. Even if the authority isn't highlighting it on their website, it's not that difficult to find, if you want to.

I know that e-PIMS was referenced in some earlier sessions. That links to the work we've done on Ystadau Cymru. All publicly owned assets are mapped on e-PIMS. That isn't accessible to the public, but, again, in terms of getting systems to speak to each other, the information on e-PIMS is now automatically transferred into DataMapWales, which obviously is a publicly accessible database. So, there are 23,000 publicly owned assets that have been captured on e-PIMS, which will now be transferred over to DataMapWales. And the other thing we've developed through Ystadau Cymru and e-PIMS, which is publicly accessible, is a Space Cymru portal, where publicly owned assets that are for sale or to let are advertised. So, that information is available, and, again, that's something that we're looking to improve and see how that can be developed, again for the benefit of people across Wales. 

09:35

And the whole data mapping area is really important because Carolyn asked me a question yesterday in the Chamber about land value tax and the kind of data we would need were we to move to something like that. It would be important when we're thinking about local land transaction tax rates. So, I think it is a growing and important area of focus for us. 

Yes, okay. Thanks very much. We move on to Jayne Bryant. Jayne. 

Thank you, Chair, and good morning, Ministers. One of the things that we've heard quite a lot about from the evidence that we've taken is the importance of support and advice to community groups before, during and after taking ownership; there are obviously very different stages of that and the support that's needed. What role do you think Welsh Government has to play in enabling that access to support, advice and skills needed by those community groups, and how do you see the role of local authorities and the third sector in providing that support?

One of the things in the evidence that we've heard was the importance perhaps of a central hub of support and advice, similar perhaps to the Farming Connect service.  What are your thoughts around any development of a similar scheme for community asset transfers?

So, we do publish some transfer guidance, as Richard has already explained. We're looking at the upfront bit, again as Richard's already explained. But we do, at the moment, partly—. So, this is Jane Hutt's portfolio a little bit as well, so I'm trying to be careful not to be giving evidence for another Minister to have to follow. At the moment, I can tell you what's done for the housing transfers. And I know that Jane made a statement recently saying that we were going to develop over this coming summer this whole thing about mapping it out across the Government, to try and bring it together. So, hopefully, at the other end of that piece of work, we'll be able to have a more consistent thing across all assets. But at the moment, for example in housing, we fund Cwmpas £180,000 each year to look at the support and solutions needed for community housing, for example. And at the moment you'd have to find the kind of theme in the Government, I guess, to do it, and, as I understand it anyway, part of the work that Jane is doing for that is to bring it together across the Government and to look for that consistency. And that's partly the letter I talked about, going back to Cwmpas, and us accepting that we need to do that piece of work to make it more accessible for people and to give them a better understanding. 

But just more generally, this is very much a piece of what I was talking about earlier about making sure that we assist communities to become engaged and enabled communities, because lots of communities need that assistance in the first place. So, you have to kind of do the community engagement empowerment piece before they're even able to access the guidance and support. And some communities do that naturally; they have an individual there who's able and willing to do that, and we've got good examples of that around Wales, of course. But some communities are not fortunate enough to have such an individual, and they need a bit of assistance to do that, and I've already mentioned the pilots up in Dwyfor where we've employed two people to do just that, and there are other examples around Wales. 

Back in the old days, when I was the Minister with responsibility for Superfast Cymru, we had some great examples around Wales of communities that had come together to actually do a dig to get fibre broadband into their community. And Michaelston-le-Pit, which I know you're familiar with, Jayne, and I know John is as well—it's a great example of a community that just did it by themselves using our voucher schemes to assist them with the funding. But in other places in Wales, and particularly a couple of places down in Ceredigion, we had an official, Peter, who I wish I could clone quite frankly, who was so great at engaging the community and getting them to come together to get the fibre broadband they needed or any other thing. So, sometimes, you need that catalyst person to get the community to come together to be able to take advantage of the support and guidance. So, we absolutely do need to make that better. But I do think there's a big, important piece about that empowerment and engagement first, because we can't take for granted that communities just magically have that happening in them, because they absolutely don't.

09:40

—communities that come together have that skill mix already, but others don't. And that was one of the things that we were looking at—the differences between things like urban and rural, but also more affluent areas and deprived communities, and how those assets are—. And the difference, perhaps, between those communities, which means some assets are more likely to go through the process rather than some others—just perhaps if there are any thoughts you have on that, really.

So, just on that, Jayne, I hate that language, I have to say. I had no idea I came from a deprived community—

—until I got a job at the Welsh Government, and everybody talks about the community I came from as a deprived community. I have to say, it's news to me, but anyway. My view is that quite a lot of people who live in lower socioeconomic communities are actually pretty ingenious at this sort of stuff. So, right now, for example, we have a Libary of Things in the centre of Swansea, which I'm really pleased to support, and people are able to not have the capital expenditure of buying a tent they use once a year—they can actually go and hire it for the week for—. And then it's a shared asset; it's helpful for the world's resources not to have all of us having things stacked in our shed that we only use once every three years, and it's—.

But the community I grew up in did that automatically, because people just didn't have enough money to do that. So, my family had the ladders and my father had the hedge trimmer, and we all just shared them round. So, I think quite a—. It's not about the socioeconomic status of the community, it's about how integrated it is. And actually, some communities just are integrated naturally in that way and others aren't, and that's why you need the catalyst for those that aren't. The community I grew up in, on a council estate in north Swansea, was integrated all by itself, fortunately. There were other communities at that same time in Swansea that looked very similar from the outside, but, for whatever reason, weren't integrated in that way, and they could have done with somebody to help them come together to start the process of, 'Why are you all buying your own hedge trimmers?', for example. So, that catalyst person is really pivotal to this agenda, it seems to me, because you need that empowerment piece to get that community to realise its own worth, and then bring its skill base to bear on it, in my view. And as I say, I know we all use that language, but I hate it.

And we'll be reviewing our community asset transfer guidance, to make sure that it's relevant for all communities. Because we do know that there is strong evidence across the UK that more deprived communities—as we referred to—don't receive the support that they need to acquire or manage those assets. And, often, it's the case that acquiring the asset is not the end game wanted, it's about involvement and managing those assets. So, we just need to check that our guidance is relevant to the aspirations of all communities.

And then, just to go back to the previous point, and Julie was saying about the work that is going to be undertaken over the summer as part of the community policy, I know Jane Hutt's department will be considering whether there does need to be a central hub to have this information, because there is, as we've discussed a few times in this session, so much available in terms of different sources of funding and advice. We've got Cwmpas, Business Wales and Social Business Wales, obviously, who are involved in this space. The Wales Council for Voluntary Action administers the community asset loan fund, the rural development fund, and then Ystadau Cymru has recently launched the assets collaboration Wales grant scheme as well. So, we need to make sure that there is clarity for people who are looking for support in this space.

It's going to be a long list that you get, Chair, of these. [Laughter.]

Thank you, Chair. Just following the written paper that you've provided, you've noted about the programme of knowledge sharing for successful transfers being taken forward by, is it Ystadau Cymru? I'm just wondering about the extent the Welsh Government facilitates the sharing of that best practice, where there's been a successful asset transfer, and is there a timescale on the work being taken forward by Ystadau Cymru?

That's an ongoing process. So, in the current guide, we have some best practice case studies of successful community asset transfers. We also have an Ystadau Cymru web page on the Welsh Government website. So, that's something we're working on now to improve that and to improve the availability of the case studies. I think, before the pandemic, when we were involved in this, I'd been around to visit quite a few community asset transfers. What I was hoping to encourage was that those who had been successful in community asset transfer would share their knowledge, not just having something on a piece of paper, but actually—I know it's a time-consuming element—for them as well to give some things to help other groups, to share their experiences, which I think—. There's nothing better than that, really—to understand what hoops they've had to go through, but also for us to understand the hoops they've gone through and how we improve that. So, the case studies are an important piece of the work we're doing and, again, to help inform us, really, on how we develop this work and how we learn the lessons and how things can be continually improved and to support communities on this agenda.

09:45

We also do quite a lot of talking to various groups around Wales. So, I've had a whole series of meetings with various groups interested in community land trusts and community housing, for example, and I recently spoke at one of the co-operative housing conferences. And the purpose of those conferences is to get people to come forward with what's worked or what hasn't worked and to share their experience there for the rest of us to take note of. So, I've had some really great experiences in some of the groups that are active around Wales, sort of self-helping with that kind of sharing of best practice. The reason you've all heard of the Solva Community Lands Trust is that they've been very proactive in sharing what they've been through and what worked and didn't work and so on. So, that's another example of where empowered communities can actually spread out across Wales. So, it's not always for the Government to do, I suppose, is what I'm making—. This is about the communities coming together to do it themselves to some extent as well.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Ministers. Thank you for your time this morning, it's really appreciated, and I certainly welcome the comments you made earlier about sharing some information with the committee around the funding and the grant side of things as well. What struck me, when we visited a few groups in north Wales a few weeks ago, is their ability to access borrowing either from the Development Bank of Wales or commercial lenders, because, actually, a lot of the—as I'm sure you're aware—assets that they want to help run or take over, as it were, could be an ongoing concern, so they actually serve as a loan if necessary. One of the comments they made, actually, is that the interest rates on those can sometimes be quite substantial—10 per cent plus—which I guess is a risk-based assessment by the lender. But do you think there's a role for the Government to play in terms of underwriting some of that to reduce that risk so that they can perhaps borrow at better rates, or even be a guarantor there as well, again so it's not necessarily using Government money, but just being that guarantor of underwriter for some of this? Is that a role you think that Government could play?

[Inaudible.] So, part of the self-help Wales—self-help? Self Build Wales—sorry, it's early. The Self Build Wales scheme does do exactly that, as I explained earlier, because people don't have the capital upfront to do it, so we assist until they can get a mortgage on their building that's being developed. But one of the reasons that we insist that the community land trusts partner with an RSL is for exactly that reason, because, actually, even if we were to underwrite it, the work that we would have to do, with my housing hat on now—Rebecca will talk more generally, I'm sure, about the finance stuff, but with my housing hat on, the work that we would have to do to make sure that we had used our public money effectively to undertake due diligence on the group in question is as bad as anything else that they—. So, what we need to do is make sure that we have an organisation that provides that resilience and that's why we insist that an RSL is involved. Because the RSL doesn't have that problem—they can access lending, they can access social housing grant, they can access a whole series of things, because, of course, they have been themselves already through the process of doing that, or they wouldn't be a functioning RSL, and that's why we do it. And I'm asked constantly, 'Couldn't we do it without them?', but we've not been able to figure out a way to allow the community to have access to that without having to go through a due diligence process, which is, frankly, more than most of them are going to be able to get through. So, you know, just on the housing front—

Yes, I'd absolutely accept that and understand that completely. Do you think you or Welsh Government have that link into RSLs enough to either encourage them to do that type of activity or incentivise them to do that type of activity as well?

09:50

Yes, very much so. So, we've been working very hard with RSLs—and it has accelerated over the last few years; certainly, Richard and I have had this conversation many times—to get these mixed developments in place. So, at the moment, we often have a private sector development and it's got an element of social housing in it. You know this, Sam; we've had this conversation many times. It starts off at 20 per cent, and, by the time it's being built, it's 8 per cent or something, which is really frustrating. I get very aerated, as Richard will tell you, about it.

So, we've been encouraging the RSLs to help that process with the SMEs by bringing in things like community land trusts and co-operative housing to help the SMEs with their social housing obligation—or affordable housing it is, actually, not social housing; I must get my terminology right—but partly because we want those mixed sustainable communities. So, (a), it gets us more of a mix on the plot of land itself, and (b) it's not just social housing and private sector housing; you've got a sustainable mix of shared equity, co-operative and so on. So, it matters for more reasons than just the money. So, we do do that. We encourage the RSLs to do that.

More recently, we've been encouraging the RSLs and the stock-holding councils to buy off-plan as well, so that we can dot the houses around. When they buy off-plan, they weren't particularly built to be social housing, as long as they're built to standard, and we've been pushing our SME builders in particular to build to that standard; it's a much easier push than with the big house builders, until very recently, when they've all changed their tune dramatically, it has to be said, and much to be welcomed. We've been working with the UK Government to put the new homes ombudsman in place and so on, after the various scandals of poorly built housing. So, that's been a very welcome turnaround. So, actually, we've got all the major house builders signed up to build to our standard, our development quality standard, and that means that the RSLs and the stock-holding councils can buy off-plan as well, so they can dot the houses around, and that means they can help the community and co-operative housing trusts to access those houses as well. So, we deliberately do that. I'd be very open to a discussion about a different way of doing it, but we've not been able to come up with one ourselves.

If I may, in that context, what we're trying to do is make the best use of our different funding pots and how they work together. So, we are, hopefully, going to develop a couple of pilots with Cwmpas and a local community and an RSL, so we're tapping into the social housing grant and our land and buildings development fund to help develop a couple of projects at a community level. So, that's something we're progressing, hopefully over the next 12 months.

Yes, and outside of housing as well, that's a similar sort of principle, because RSLs would rightly be focused on the housing stock, so whether it is, as you say, a village hall or something, or a local pub, which could be an ongoing business concern for the community, who would that community group work with to try and get the underwriting and the support, then?

Yes, so that's the Development Bank of Wales, and we do have loans and grants; mixed loan grants, so community facilities grants, for example, would come into play there. But, again, trying to make sure that you've got a robust business plan and a sustainable group to do that—. We all want that local pub to be saved, but we'd also quite like it to be sustainable and not have to be grant-aided every three months, so you have got to make sure that that's a resilient group of people who have a robust business plan that is more than just an emotional tie. Sorry to be hard-hearted about it, but—. And that's one of the biggest issues: how do you make sure that you have a community engaged enough to be able to have that resilient business plan? And then all of the stuff we've talked about all of the way through this session has been about how do you get the guidance and support in place to make sure that people can develop such a plan and so on. But, from our point of view, obviously we want to help those groups but we also don't want to take on a whole series of liabilities inadvertently and find that we just—. I can feel the interview with my finance Minister colleague coming on about how the hell I got myself into the situation where I seem to own a lot of assets around Wales, so—. She might look nice, but she's quite fierce if you get yourself into that kind of situation.

So, the issue there, isn't it, is, going right back to what we talked about at the beginning, the community empowerment and engagement piece. How do you make the community sufficiently self-sustainable and engaged to be able to develop such a sustainable plan? And that goes for a village hall or a bench or a footpath as well, and that's why I started to talk about looking at whether the local authority could acquire that asset and then put a maintenance arrangement in place with the local community council or community group, for example—so, other routes to doing the same thing.

And then, just, perhaps—. If I can carry on, Chair, if you don't mind, just on the local authority then, one thing that strikes me, of course, often, is the level of reserves that local authorities sit on around Wales, and a lot of those are earmarked, I understand that completely, but there are around £2 billion-worth of reserves in local authorities and I wonder whether you think some of those reserves should be better used, whether it's in terms of lending to community groups or underwriting some of their borrowing to enable them to more easily access some assets. Is that something local authorities could do more readily? Is that something you'd want to encourage or what?

09:55

So, the overall point I would say on reserves—and you will know this as well as anyone—in the sense that the information that we publish just shows a snapshot in time—and, as you recognise as well, much of those reserves is earmarked for capital projects, for school building and so on—it's not all necessarily available in the first instance. And then I'd also point to the next two financial years that we have coming towards us. So, local authorities had a good settlement this year, but, obviously, in the next two financial years, things get more difficult. So, I'm just taking this opportunity to float the idea that authorities might be looking to reserves to help them with some of their challenges that they will be facing over the next couple of years. But the point more widely is an important one, and we want to be there to enable local authorities to think creatively about how they use the funding available to them to support their communities. I see that Judith is on the call as well, so I'm wondering if she might have something else to add on this.

We're not able to hear you at the moment, Judith. No. Do you have—? Is your microphone perhaps not close enough to your mouth, Judith, perhaps?

It's okay, Chair. Perhaps if it's possible to get something further on this—

I appreciate that. I think my point is sometimes the interest rate in terms of those reserves, from the savings, for local authorities, they are very, very poor and there may be an opportunity in terms of lending, not at extortionate rates at all, but it might help both local authorities and those community groups if they can access some of that borrowing at a cheaper rate, but perhaps that's something that we can—

So, actually, on that point, Sam, and, again, for housing, but there's no reason why we couldn't do it for other assets, we are currently investigating local authorities going back into doing local authority mortgages. When I first joined a local authority, which was several years before you were born, sadly, local authority mortgages were a big part of what local authorities did, and they lent money on a range of assets, not just housing, to enable people to access loans in circumstances where they wouldn't necessarily be able to. So, we are currently actively looking at, for housing, whether we can go back into that, and—. Goodness knows what's going to happen over the next two years, but if the current housing bubble bursts, for example, and we go into negative equity and so on, local authorities were well placed to do mortgage rescue packages and so on to stop people becoming homeless, because that, as you know, is very expensive indeed. But I don't see any reason why, in doing that piece of work, we couldn't look at whether local authority mortgages might be available on community assets, for example. That seems an obvious way to be able to do it, and that provides a revenue stream to the local authority, and it's a better use of their capital, as you say, than currently we've got, even on the overnight lending market.

So, we're currently actively looking at that between us.

Okay, great. Thank you. Can I have one more quick question, Chair?

I'm being very liberal. One point that struck me in one of the evidence sessions previously was that somebody mentioned, basically, the assets that are being transferred to them aren't generally assets, they're liabilities. Do you think that's a fair criticism of local authorities, that actually what we're talking about is liability transfer, rather than asset transfer?

Shall I—? I think that's probably a sweeping statement, in fairness. I think we saw evidence as well with local authorities—I think we had evidence from Swansea—where I think they were taking a far more proactive approach in terms of how they're engaging with communities, and they weren't necessarily looking to transfer assets, but they recognised the importance of those assets to the communities. So, they were passing management of the assets over to the communities, but they were still retaining control around that, and I suppose the easy option for them would have been to perhaps flip them and let the communities take on the potential liability. So, I know it's a—. There probably have been examples where that's been the case in the past, but I don't think that's a common position, in fairness.

And the other thing is, you need to be, from asset class to asset class, careful what you inherit, because you are taking on particular obligations. So, swimming pools is the classic example, where you are, as a community group, taking on serious obligations there, and I think that's where local authorities get quite cautious in terms of—. And they're trying to be fair and open with community groups for them to understand what they're taking on and also what their future obligations and commitments may be in terms of replacing expensive plant machinery et cetera. So, I think there will be some examples where it might be liabilities, but I don't think that's a universally fair criticism that that's what local authorities are doing.

10:00

Okay. Thank you very much. We move on, then, to Mabon.

Diolch. Dwi'n mynd i gyfrannu yn Gymraeg, os ydy hynny'n iawn gyda chi.

Thank you. I'm going to contribute in Welsh.

Could I take a different one? It won't turn on, unfortunately. Diolch.

Ydy'r cyfieithu'n gweithio? Gwych. Os caf i, y cwestiwn cyntaf ydy: tua wyth mlynedd yn ôl roedd y Llywodraeth wedi sefydlu'r Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission. Nôl yn 2014, roedd y comisiwn yna wedi rhyddhau adroddiad oedd yn gwneud nifer o argymhellion, ac yna ddaru'r Llywodraeth rhoi addewid i ddod â deddfwriaeth ymlaen er mwyn sicrhau bod gan bobl yr hawl, fod gan gymunedau'r hawl, i gymryd drosodd asedau, ac y buasai'r Llywodraeth yn gweithredu'r Localism Act 2011 hefyd. Pam nad yw'r Llywodraeth wedi gweithredu ar yr addewidion hynny nôl yn 2015?

Is it working? Thank you. The first question is: about eight years ago, the Government established the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission. In 2014, that commission released a report that made a number of recommendations, and then the Government made a promise to bring legislation forward in order to ensure that people, that communities, had the right to take over assets, and the Government would bring in the Localism Act 2011 as well and utilise that. Why hasn't the Government acted on that pledge made back in 2015?

Well, I suppose in the broader context, because obviously there was the Localism Act in England and obviously Scotland, I think, at the time, the view was that the Government would take a policy-led approach and develop a stronger support mechanism around this agenda, and I think that's what we've endeavoured to do. I think, in terms of introducing legislation—and I'm agnostic on that, but I think it has to be—. We need to understand is there a need for the legislation and can we demonstrate the demand. But then it has to be the right legislation, and I think, at the moment, I would suggest that the position in England particularly, and Scotland, still have their issues in terms of how effective the legislation actually is. So, in England, it's the community right to bid and, effectively, you've got six months for a community group to come together to be able to acquire the asset. Six months isn't enough. And similarly, I think it's eight months in Scotland, I believe—again, that's challenging. So, there are two aspects to it: (1) do we have—? And I suppose, in fairness, this is part of your review—is there a strong enough evidence base being developed to demonstrate the need to introduce legislation? And then (2) what does that legislation look like in fulfilling the objectives that it seeks to achieve? So, I suspect that's where we are, from my personal observation—[Inaudible.]

Yes. And then I will say, actually, Mabon, I'm not a fan of the Localism Act, I must say. I wasn't, I don't think, in the Government when that decision was made, but I'm not a fan of the Localism Act for a number of reasons. We prefer a slightly different approach in Wales. So, we've done a number of things that seem tangential to this but actually work towards it. So, I've mentioned a few times 'Future Wales: the national plan 2040' and 'Planning Policy Wales'. So, the whole basis of our plan-led system in Wales is to build resilient, diverse communities. And actually, a local authority properly implementing that plan, through the LDP and through the now corporate joint committees that Rebecca's bringing into force as fast as possible, will be doing the regional strategic planning guidance, and they should be looking at whether their communities are resilient. And that should leave the local authority, in its plan, to talk about community facilities, in its widest possible sense, that would make that community resilient. And we certainly know, through the pandemic, don't we, that that includes local recreational abilities, a public house or a community centre or a village hall, parks, green infrastructure. So, the local authority is compelled by 'Future Wales' and 'Planning Policy Wales', and will be caught by its own strategic regional plan, and then its renewed LDP. We’ve just asked them to renew the LDPs to look at those resilient communities. So, you can come at it tangentially as well. So, they have to plan for how does that community become resilient, and so they will have to develop a plan for how to maintain those assets or, as Sam says, liabilities. Because, unfortunately, a lot of leisure assets are liabilities, because people can’t actually afford to pay the full cost of using them. So, if you were to be charged the full cost of swimming in the leisure centre in Swansea, not very many people would be using it. So, they’re subsidised, and they’re subsidised for a good reason, because they’re there for the health and well-being of the community, but communities can’t afford subsidy, so you have to come up with different plans to do it. So, swimming pools are a very good example. They are way expensive to run, and if you charge them at cost, then you’re talking about the same kind of prices as joining a private health club, which is out of the range of the people that the facilities are for.

So, I think we come at it a slightly different way, but we are definitely driving in that direction, because this is part of our resilient communities plan, isn’t it? That you should be able to access all of these facilities in your area a walk or cycle ride away, and not a 55-minute journey in your expensive car. So, I think the Localism Act—I’m just not a fan of it. I think it comes at it from a different aspect. I don’t think I was in the Government when that decision was made, but I probably would make the same decision now. I think we need to develop a plan that works for our communities in Wales, and that is about the empowerment piece. As Richard just said, strict time limits, the way that village greens are treated, for example, and so on—I just don’t like that stuff. Communities tend not to understand what’s going to happen in their area until it’s actually happening, and so you need to make sure that they can respond to that. So, I’m not a fan.

10:05

I would also say that I’m just keen to see what the committee determines in terms of having listened to the wide range of evidence that you've had, and whatever we decide has to be, I think, evidence led. On legislation, I always think the first question really is: is this something that can only be achieved through legislation, or are there policy levers and funding levers that we can use to achieve the same kind of thing? So, that’s an interesting lens through which to look at this. Then just a word about the legislative programme itself between now and the end of this Senedd—we’ve got a huge number of legislative commitments, so I just think that you have to be realistic about what else could potentially be accommodated.

At the moment, if we put a requirement to legislate in another area that’s not currently in the programme for government, it would have to knock something else out. There is no legislative space, and this committee knows that because I know that you’ve looked at your timetable. I’m going to be spending a lot of time with you over the next couple of years, so it is a packed schedule. So, even if we thought it was a brilliant idea, you would be looking at either displacing a piece of legislation, and they’re all hard-fought-for and needed, or the next Senedd term for anything substantial.

Ocê. Diolch am yr atebion hynny. Jest i nodi ei fod o wedi bod yn addewid gan y Llywodraeth, a phlaid y Llywodraeth, cyn etholiad 2016, ac felly mae yna dymor wedi bod ers hynny efo rhaglen ddeddfwriaethol lle ddylai wedi bod, lle roedd o i fod, ond doedd o ddim. Felly, rydyn ni ddau dymor ymlaen rŵan a does yn dal ddim datblygiad ar hynny, er gwaethaf y ffaith bod yna dystiolaeth bryd hynny’n awgrymu fod angen hyn. Ond mi fydd gwaith y pwyllgor yma yn help, dwi’n sicr.

Jest i fynd nôl at bwynt y Gweinidog, Julie James. Roeddech chi’n sôn am yr LDP. Ydych chi felly yn ystyried bod yr LDPs newydd, wrth fod rhai newydd yn dod ymlaen, yn mynd i ystyried yr angen i rymuso cymunedau drwy drosglwyddo asedau? Ydy hyn yn mynd i fod yn ganolog? Ydy o'n rhywbeth newydd, yn ddisgwyliad newydd ar awdurdodau lleol?

Thank you for those answers. Just to note that it was a promise by the Government, and the party of Government, before the 2016 election, and therefore there has been a term since then, and a legislative programme where it should have been, but it wasn’t. So, we’re two terms forward now and no development on that, despite the fact that there was evidence then suggesting that this was needed. But this committee’s work will help with that, I’m sure.

Just to go back to the point that you made, Julie James. You mentioned the LDP. Are you therefore considering that the new LDPs, as new ones come forward, are going to consider the need to empower communities through asset transfer? Is this going to be central? Is this going to be something new, or a new expectation on local authorities?

So, yes, Mabon, we expect them to consider how to make their communities more resilient. So, as part of that piece, it’s about making sure that the infrastructure in its widest sense, not just roads and water, but in its wider sense—so, green infrastructure, leisure infrastructure, and so on—is there to make that community sustainable. Because we know that that’s the way to increase health and well-being, decrease homelessness, decrease family break-up, decrease strain on the community, and so on. We know that. We know that diverse, sustainable communities have that effect, so, yes, 'Planning Policy Wales' and the future plan are pushing everybody in that direction. The next piece, as you know, is to put the strategic regional piece in place, and then we expect the LDPs to be rewritten. As I say, we've just asked all local authorities to review their LDP with regard to where they are in the cycle to make sure that they are complying with resilient communities.

10:10

Will you be issuing a new technical advice note regarding asset transfers, or something along those lines?

Well, we might well consider that. The committee might want to recommend something of that sort. That's not my current plan, to do a TAN on it, but we'll see how the local authorities get on with both the regional and the LDP lites, as they're called, once the regional plan is in place. And, yes, a technical advice note is certainly something we could consider doing, but, as I say, we're driving towards this placemaking, as we call it, and you can't have a resilient place unless you have a large number of these facilities managed in a variety of different ways, depending on the community ask. Mabon, I know you're very familiar with the Welsh-language communities plan, for example, and that talks about very similar kinds of direction of travel. So, we've got a suite of policies pushing in the same direction, and the committee will come to its own conclusion on the Localism Act, but I think there are other things happening in Wales that are not happening in England that are pushing us in a different direction. I'm afraid I don't know what happened in the Government prior to 2016. 

A gaf i holi cwestiwn ar asedau preifat hefyd, os gwelwch yn dda? Mae gen i enghraifft yn fy etholaeth i, lle mae cymuned Pennal yn trio dod ynghyd rŵan i brynu'r dafarn a'r gwesty cymunedol. Os oes gan unrhyw un ddiddordeb mewn prynu siâr yn y cwmni yna, cysylltwch efo pobl Pennal. [Chwerthin.] Ond mae yna nifer o enghreifftiau tebyg lle mae garejis a sinemâu, ac yn y blaen, asedau preifat, yn dod i fyny. Ac mae'r dystiolaeth rydyn ni wedi ei chael gan fentrau cydweithredol a chymunedol yn dweud eu bod nhw yn ei ffeindio fo'n anodd weithiau i roi cais i'w prynu nhw achos eu bod nhw'n mynd ar y farchnad agored. Maen nhw fel cymuned yn gweld gwerth yn yr adeilad neu'r ased yna, ond mae yna rywun preifat yn dod i mewn ac yn ei brynu o ac yn ei drosi yn dŷ amlfeddiannaeth neu'n rhywbeth arall. A oes yna gamau rydych chi'n meddwl y dylid eu cymryd, neu a oes angen rhoi camau mewn lle i gynorthwyo cymunedau i fynd ati a chael perchnogaeth ar asedau o'r sector preifat?

If I could ask you a question on private sector assets now too. I have an example in my own constituency, where the community of Pennal is coming together now to buy the local community pub and hotel. If anyone is interested in buying shares in that company, then get in touch with the folks of Pennal. [Laughter.] But there are a number of similar examples where garages and cinemas, which are private assets, come up for sale. And the evidence that we've received from community and co-operative initiatives says that they sometimes find it difficult to bid to buy these assets because they're for sale on the open market. They see a value in that asset or building, but then a private purchaser comes in and turns it into a house in multiple occupation or something else. So, are there steps that you think should be taken, or do steps need to be put in place to assist communities to take ownership of private sector assets?

I think that's partly what I was talking about. I'm really just starting to consider this—the whole local authority mortgage. So, we've only been considering it for housing, I will say, but we can certainly discuss whether that's a possibility for other assets. As in the conversation with Sam earlier, it's quite a reasonable use of a local authority piece of capital to do that; it produces a revenue stream. You would still have to go through a business planning process, and you'd have to make sure that the business plan produced the revenue stream necessary to pay out the capital, wouldn't you? But it would give people access to capital in a way that I think is quite interesting to explore. So, I'm more than happy to work with Rebecca to explore that. We have not explored it. As I say, we have been exploring doing it for housing.

Os caf i, trafferth rhywbeth tebyg i hynny ydy does gan y fenter gymunedol ddim mo'r amser i fynd ati i gael sgwrs efo'r awdurdod lleol er mwyn rhoi morgais yn ei le, benthyciad, ac yn y blaen, oherwydd erbyn yr amser eu bod nhw'n dod â'r fenter ynghyd, tynnu'r gymuned ynghyd, datblygu cynllun busnes, rhoi'r cais i mewn, mae hynna'n fisoedd, yna bydd rhywun preifat wedi dod i mewn ac yna'i brynu fo a'i drosi mewn i HMO neu rywbeth. Yn yr Alban, mae yna ddeddfwriaeth mewn lle yn rhoi first right of refusal i gymuned, er enghraifft. Meddwl ar hyd y llinellau hynny oeddwn i. 

If I may, the problem with something like that is that a community initiative doesn't necessarily have the time to have that conversation with the local authority on mortgage or lending, so when they're bringing the initiative together and bringing the community together, developing a business plan, putting the bid in, that takes months and then, in that period, somebody from the private sector will have come in and purchased it and turned it into a HMO or something. In Scotland, there is legislation for giving the first right of refusal to a community. I was thinking along those lines. 

I think this goes back to Richard's point about the time that is available for communities to mobilise to undertake this kind of purchase.

Yes, and I think the other thing we need to do is think about other options and alternatives. Some of the challenge we've got is, obviously, the change of use of pubs, for example. I suppose there might be something there in planning, in terms of the permitted development rights and whether they can be—. There's an option as to whether some of those could be restricted. So, they have to go through a formal process, so then the community is able to engage then in terms of how those facilities are used in the future, and to give them that opportunity, I think. So, I think we need to look at the range of options potentially available, and the challenge is, I think, to look a bit more of a—.

And also, I think, Mabon, it's part of what we've been talking about in making sure communities are empowered and engaged. An empowered and engaged community will understand what the assets look like in its local area and what might happen to them if they changed hands. So, you ought to be able to get ahead of that, really, in a large number of—. You won't be able to do it always, of course. But, part of what we're looking to do is make sure that a community has that engagement, so it understands what it needs and what might happen to its assets.

We've been looking at helping communities put what's called strategic planning guidance in for very specific areas, to make sure that there's a plan. It has been used in some areas. The one I'm familiar with is in Bristol, to make sure that independent shops aren't replaced by chain shops. There's a strategic area plan in place that allows the community to set out in planning terms what it needs. It has been tried in other places, not successfully. It was tried in my own constituency, but wasn't successful.

So, we have been looking to see what we could do to strengthen that lowest level of the planning system for that very specific plan. That would allow the community to be engaged in mapping out what their own future might look like over the next five to 10 years. So, you would have an opportunity to get ahead of some of that, but you're never going to get ahead of an opportunistic sale, are you? We just have to put people into the best position that they might be in order to take advantage of it.

The other thing, I suppose, is we could look at whether local authorities might be willing to step in and buy the asset in the first place. But, local authorities are pretty strapped for cash in terms of capital usually, and it's often earmarked, isn't it? That's Rebecca's portfolio. A local authority might not be in a position to have the capital to release in the first place.

10:15

I was just thinking, if we are talking, for example, about unused land then local authorities do have compulsory purchase powers. We published a comprehensive manual in March of last year, which we're still raising awareness of amongst local authorities, in terms of trying to be able to support them to undertake that competently and successfully.

We did a whole training programme with local authorities—my time sense is terrible since COVID—in the last few years. Sorry, I'm sure that officials will be able to tell me. We did a whole programme of engagement on compulsory purchase and the ways that you can use it to maintain community assets and so on. For the life of me, I can't remember whether it was before COVID or during COVID.

Was it before? I can't remember. Honestly, COVID has messed my time sense up terribly.

I think that then led to the publication of the manual to drive things on.

There we are. So, we did quite a bit of work with local authorities because we were trying to make sure that derelict buildings in the centres of towns and so on were dealt with. That's been a piece of work that has been going on for some time on vacant buildings and derelict land. I think Vikki Howells did a piece in the Senedd at one point about a piece of real estate in her constituency that was causing a real blight in an area. So, we did do that piece of work. We'd have to consider—I'm sure the committee will make recommendations—what happens if the local filling station or pub is suddenly up for sale, because that's a rather different proposition.

It's slightly tangential, but I have to also mention our proposals for a vacant land tax, because I think this all feeds into the same kind of area about ensuring that assets and land within our communities are best used. It's something that we're still trying to pursue with the UK Government, but also something that the committee might take a view on as well.

Mae gen i gwestiwn, ond caf i weld os bydd amser wedyn.

I do have another question, but I'll see if there's time at the end.

I'll see if there's time later on for another question.

Joel, I think we've probably strayed onto your territory.

Yes, no worries at all. Thank you, Chair. Thanks ever so much for coming in today, sorry I was a little bit late—traffic's a nightmare in the morning where I'm coming from. As the Chair mentioned, we've already touched upon some of the legislative questions I wanted to ask, but I just wanted to pick your brains.

We've heard that there seems to be an inconsistency amongst local authorities as to how well they handle asset transfers. Richard, you mentioned that some of them don't even have a policy in place. Do you think that that is—I don't want to say 'a fault'. But, in the sense that the Welsh Government's going down a policy framework route rather than a legislative route in terms of this, do you think that has allowed that inconsistency, and that a legislative route would have maybe empowered communities better, because it would be clearly defined then what a local authority has to do in law? I don't know who'd be best to answer that.

10:20

I think, particularly in very recent years, local authorities have understandably had their attention very much diverted on to COVID, now on to Ukraine, and so on. So, I do think that that will probably explain the experience that some communities have had in the last couple of years. But you are right, in the sense that the evidence that you've heard suggests there is inconsistency, and this is what I think that we're going to have to look at as a result of your inquiry. 

I think also we've made significant progress from where we started in terms of before we developed the guidance and engaging with the local authorities on this area. So, I think we've come a long way, but we acknowledge there's more to do. And, obviously, hopefully, this kind of review will give a further impetus now for it to be further embedded within the local authorities. 

Perfect, thank you. I just have one last question, really. Thank you, Chair. One of the things that we've been hearing about in the evidence sessions—and Mabon touched upon it again—are privately owned assets. Is there something that can be brought in from a planning point of view? A lot of the campaigns that I've been involved in as a regional Member, whether it's to save the local pub, or save an old school, or even a community facility, ultimately, if it's owned by a private person, there is nothing really stopping them unless it's listed or there's special dispensation with the local authority; they're actually just knocking down the asset. And we've seen instances where developers would rather knock down the asset than allow it then to be sold for a community purpose because they see it as a value to them in terms of maybe developing it for housing or flats and that sort of thing. Is there scope coming from a planning legislative proposal that could be seen to strengthen communities there? Even though, as Julie mentioned, six months doesn't necessarily give them time to get a plan in place, they'd know that, ultimately, it's not going to be knocked down, regardless of what happens. 

I will get the committee a note on this because we've done some work as a result of some things that have happened here in Cardiff around the demolition of historic buildings—it was a pub, in fact—and the way that the planning system treats demolition as opposed to development. So, it's quite a technical planning point and, rather than garble it, I'll get the committee a note on it, because we did do quite a bit of work with Cardiff Council about what they could already do in that space, and help them to get to grips with it, because there is an issue about knocking down an asset and then just leaving a piece of vacant land for a long time. So, I'll get the committee a note on that rather than trying to explain what I recollect as being quite a technical piece of planning legislation. 

And, Chair, I've actually got a copy of the letter that we wrote in response to Cwmpas's report to you, which answers a couple of these questions as well. So, I'll formally send it to you, but I'll leave you with a copy as well; that might be helpful.

Un cwestiwn pellach oedd gen i, os gwelwch yn dda. Roeddech chi yn sôn yn gynharach am y rhestr asedau. Roeddech chi, Weinidog, yn sôn nad oeddech chi'n sicr o'r cynllun yna, ond ddaru chi, Richard, sôn bod e-PIMS yn bodoli, y Space Cymru portal, a bod gan bob awdurdod lleol restr o asedau. Dŷn ni wedi cael nifer fawr o arbenigwyr yn y maes, pobl sy'n gweithio yn y maes yma, o'n blaen ni, ac wedi siarad efo nhw. Does dim un ohonyn wedi sôn am y rhestrau yna. Mae'n ymddangos bod nhw naill ai ddim yn ymwybodol ohonyn nhw, neu bod nhw ddim yn ddigonol. Felly, dŷch chi ddim yn gweld yr angen i drio tynnu'r wybodaeth yma, sydd yn amlwg ar gael yma ac acw, ynghyd â'i hyrwyddo fo'n well? Ydy hwnna ddim yn rhywbeth ddylsai gael ei wneud?

I have one further question. You mentioned earlier the list of assets. Minister, you said that you're not certain of that plan, but, Richard, you mentioned that e-PIMS exists, the Space Cymru portal, and that every local authority has a list of assets. We've had a large number of experts who work in this field before us and speaking to us. None of them have mentioned these lists. So, it shows that they're either not aware of them, or they're not sufficient. So, don't you see, therefore, the need to try and draw this information that's obviously available here and there, and to bring it together and promote it better? Isn't that something that should be done?

Yes, that's the objective for DataMapCymru. I mentioned the e-PIMS data, which will move across, but it's also intended to get land registry data onto DataMapWales as well, so you'd be able to lay different levels over to get a far richer picture of assets in Wales. So, that is actually work that is in development. 

I think, in terms of e-PIMS, the position for us there is we have got the solution. The solution is DataMapWales, because that is going to be a publicly accessible platform for people to view public assets in Wales. And, obviously, overlaying that will be the land registry information. I think e-PIMS, from a public sector perspective—. I know there was a comment made that questioned the value of e-PIMS, and thought it was a list. I think they may have been confusing the monthly list we produce with why we created e-PIMS lite in the first place. That was a strategic overview of assets in areas, so public bodies were able to see what assets were in their areas and how they could join together to make better use of assets, to join together to make better developments, et cetera. So, it's that kind of strategic picture that has actually been picked up now by—. That was a specific development for us in Wales, and now England are using it, because they can see the value of having that kind of strategic overview. We continue to work on it, and we'll continue to develop that, particularly around community assets. We have classifications, and assets are identified by use, so there's possibly something there we can think about in terms of how we extract some of that information and make that available. So, that's something we can certainly take away.

10:25

The original piece of work was done in the Cwm Taf health board area, wasn't it?

It was, yes.

I remember discussing it with you when we were a lot younger. [Laughter.] That was certainly made publicly available, but it's going back a while. And we did exactly that, we did a—. I think Mark Drakeford, in a previous existence, had commissioned it, and we did a piece of work, to make sure that we got the best use of public assets, and I was involved, because we were looking to see where we could site digital technology, to spread out signals, and so on. And then it's grown out of that, really.

So, just for me to be clear, then, even though you might not like the idea of a public asset list, it is happening?

No, no, I do like the idea. There is one. What we're saying is, it's not all the assets; there's no private sector on it—

Publicly owned assets; we do that all the time. Carolyn was just asking, how do you know who owns a bit of something or other, and I was just saying that if it was privately owned, we wouldn't have that; you'd have to use the Land Registry. If it's publicly owned, then it will be on the list.

Shall I suggest, Chair, that committee considers inviting the chief digital officer to give a presentation on DataMapWales, so that you can see the functionality for yourself, and also hear the plans for it for the future and the kind of applications it could be put to in terms of helping us with policy and development, and so on?

Thank you very much for that idea, Minister, and I'm sure we'll discuss that. Thank you. Okay, well, I'm conscious that we've gone over our allotted time. Thank you very much for sticking with us, and thank you, Ministers, and your officials, for coming in to give evidence to the committee today. You will, of course, be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

3. Papurau i’w nodi
3. Papers to note

Item 3 on our agenda today is papers to note. We have paper 2, a letter from the Finance Committee, sent to all committee Chairs, in relation to the Welsh Government's draft budget for 2023-24. And paper 3 is a written submission from Community Housing Cymru in relation to housing Ukrainian refugees, which we will consider in due course. Are Members content to note those papers? Okay.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Again, is committee content to do that? Yes. Thank you very much. We will, then, move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:28.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:28.