Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd

06/11/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jenny Rathbone AM
Joyce Watson AM
Llyr Gruffydd AM
Mike Hedges AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Neil Hamilton AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ifan Glyn Ffederasiwn y Meistr Adeiladwyr
Federation of Master Builders
Mari Arthur Cynnal Cymru
Sustain Wales
Mark Harris Home Builders Federation
Home Builders Federation
Matthew Dicks Sefydliad Tai Siartredig Cymru
Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
Professor Dave Chadwick Prifysgol Bangor
Bangor University

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elfyn Henderson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:02.

The meeting began at 09:02.

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

Bore da. Good morning. Can I welcome Members to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? Firstly, have Members got any interests to declare? No.

2. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 3 cyfarfod heddiw
2. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) to resolve to exclude the public from item 3 of today's meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 3 cyfarfod heddiw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from item 3 of today's meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I move the motion, under Standing Order 17.42, to resolve to exclude the public from item 3 of today's meeting? Yes. Thank you. We're now moving into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:02.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:02.

09:50

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 09:50.

The committee reconvened in public at 09:50.

4. Fframwaith Datblygu Cenedlaethol Drafft 2020-2040 - Sesiwn dystiolaeth 3 - Tai
4. Draft National Development Framework 2020-2040 - evidence session 3 - Housing

Bore da. Good morning. Can I welcome Matthew Dicks, the director of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru; Mark Harris, planning and policy advisor Wales, Home Builders Federation; and Ifan Glyn, senior hub director and Wales director, Federation of Master Builders? Can I thank all three of you for coming and helping us with this inquiry into the national development framework, which I'm sure you've pored over as part of your day job quite considerably? So, thank you for your papers. If you're ready, can we move straight to questions?

What's your view on the appropriateness of the housing numbers in the draft NDF? Is the purpose of these numbers clear, and do you agree with the methodology for calculating it?

I'm happy to start. I think, in terms of the numbers, before the numbers came out in January 2019, the numbers we had were the Holmans numbers, back in 2015, and the projection there was that we needed to build around 8,700 homes per annum for the next 15 years or so. And we've had four years of not delivering the houses that we need, and in January 2019, it seemed that we needed 8,300 homes per annum. So, it doesn't make much sense to me. I think the numbers also lack ambition. There's an over-reliance on what went on before, and it kind of accepts what the status quo—the status quo of not delivering homes, and moving forward on that, just a future of a continuation of not delivering enough homes. And in terms of methodology, one of the points I'd like to make is that there's a quote in there that says:

'For the purpose of this work, it is assumed that the backlog of existing unmet need will be cleared by 2023/24.'

And there's no reasoning why this assumption takes place. It's quite a jump to expect that, within five years, we are going to go from a situation of undersupply to a situation of, essentially, oversupplying. That requires quite a seismic shift, and there's no reasoning behind that.

I just want to start off by pointing out, which you all know, that we're in the midst of an acute and deep housing crisis in Wales and across the UK: 60,00 families on social housing waiting lists; over 21,000 households faced or experienced homelessness last year; 2,139 households in Wales are in bed and breakfast temporary accommodation, of which 837 of those have children; 347 were sleeping rough in Wales in February 2019. And a large factor in that is the lack of social housing stock and affordable housing supply in Wales. So, I welcome the ambition, in terms of the Government's commitment to the affordable social side, in terms of the numbers. So, that's very welcome. It's a higher percentage of the total amount than the amount of social and affordable in the Holmans numbers, but I would agree with colleagues that that's the comparison we have. That was probably a more ambitious target, and also Holmans himself was pouring a critique over his own figures, saying that, actually, they were probably at the lower end of what was needed.

So, whilst the ambition is there around social housing and affordable housing, recognising that there needs to be a change in the balance on tenure, which is welcome, perhaps the numbers need to be more. The statistical analysis from the Government itself recognises that there are problems with the analysis of need, and it was also recognised by the recent Pamment review on affordable housing supply in Wales, where they recognised a need for a more robust and granular understanding of housing need in Wales—not just the numbers, but what sort of housing, where that housing needs to be. Where are the pinch points? Is it housing for young people? Is it a lack of accessible housing et cetera? So, those are all the details that come under this, if you like. Should that detail be contained within this? Forgive the analogy, but this is the architect drawing of where we need to get to, and all the nuts and bolts, the scaffolders, the builders and whatever are coming through in other policy discussions, the affordable housing review, 'Better Homes, Better Wales' in terms of the green agenda et cetera, and how does that all relate into this? How do we deliver these numbers avoiding the unintended consequences that could come?

09:55

Do you want to—? I think it comes on automatically, I hope.

It does, yes, thank you. I think one of the key things that we're concerned about is, unlike when the stats were actually issued by Welsh Government and it was made clear that these were not a target and not a figure that you should set the housing target around, they're a starting point. So, you certainly shouldn't be delivering anything less than this, but there is plenty of room to deliver more and I think that's something that has to be made clear in the document because there will be—. We all know there are plenty of people who are against new housing being built, and if it's not made clear, they will use it as an opportunity to say, 'Well, no, we shouldn't be building any more than that.' And if you then link that into some of the economic ambition that we want to see in Wales and other growth strategies, it's important that it's understood that it should be a starting point.

I just wanted to pick up on your comments about bringing everything together and the nuts and bolts, really. Well, surely, that's the strategic development plan's role, is it not? Because you need that sort of local influence on those considerations, and not all of it being dictated from up on high.

No, I wouldn't disagree with that and the strategic development plans as well that are talked about within the NDF framework document and the other policy work that's going on at the moment, particularly the Pamment review and the implementation of that, but I—.

I mean, one thing I didn't say that I should say is that the other positive thing that we would say about this plan and the housing numbers is how it relates to the creation of place. So, there is a discussion about that. But in terms of getting to those numbers and how that relates to other pinch points in terms of the planning, you say, for example, I think that needs to be understood within this document. There needs to be an understanding of, 'We can pick numbers, but what are the barriers to that?' Skills shortages, for example, in development, in planning et cetera. So, there's little in how that joins up in terms of the training of skills or uplifting skills in order to reach those numbers in the plan. I think that needs to be in this document—you know, joining that up in order to create those places.

I think the other point, the macro point, to make is that I don't think it places housing or doesn't identify housing specifically as a core economic driver, particularly in terms of the regions but also in terms of the foundational economy model that the Government's been talking about. So, how do we get to that situation where within those regions we have capacity to deliver these houses?

Could I come in on the SDP? I think the problem is around timing. So, the NDF, potentially, is adopted next year, if it goes to plan. There's only one SDP that's really off the ground at the moment, and that's the south-east Wales one. 

Well, it's going through—. It's very early days. I mean, a few months ago, they issued some paper that suggested 2025 as the time for adoption. I mean, that was reliant on by now all the authorities voting for it to move forward. One of the authorities isn't able to vote at the moment, so that's caused a delay. And it's not just south-east Wales. We need to do one in, potentially, west Wales, mid Wales and north Wales, and none of those have started. So, if you have a document that gives a headline figure—and we'll come on to some of the issues around the lack of evidence to some of those ideas that are in the NDF—what do you do in the meantime when you're waiting five, six years for an SDP to come along?

That's a very valid point because it's been raised in previous evidence, really, in that I suppose we've got to start somewhere, haven't we? And there will always be at that start, at that beginning of the process, an incoherence because you don't have your ducks in a line, really. But you've got to start somewhere, but, yes—. So, the question we need to be asking is: what kinds of measures should be in place, then, if there isn't an SDP? If all the pieces of the jigsaw aren't in place, how can we make sure that it's a functional sort of system, really?

10:00

So, I think an example of that, which I think other people have mentioned, is the green belt. So, the policy in the NDF says there must be a green belt in south-east Wales, but it leaves it to the SDP to decide the boundaries. But in the meantime, Monmouth, for instance, which is an area that's heavily covered by the suggested green belt, are trying to bring forward their local development plan review. But they won't be allowed to bring forward their LDP review without a green belt in it, because the NDF is saying there should be a green belt. But the SDP hasn't then said where the boundary of the SDP is. So, Monmouth can't draw the boundary because they need to wait for the SDP. So, it slows down the current planning system.

Just to echo that, I mean, generally, there's a lack of clarity on that relationship within the framework, particularly with the strategic development plan, and how the regions in the strategy, at that level, are going to work, particularly with collaboration between statutory authorities at regional levels, which is finding—[Inaudible.]—difficult to push.

I know Neil Hamilton's got some questions on the strategic development plan. As we've drifted into it, we might as well continue.

Yes. Ultimately, this is a national development framework, but the national figures are meaningless because, ultimately, particularly house building—all house building is, by definition, local. So, without the evidence base and the details that have to be filled in through the strategic development plans, the national development framework itself is like an empty shell; it doesn't really give you any real basis for thinking ahead.

And given the time lags that are in the system already, which Mr Harris has just referred to, even if the suggested draft timeline for south-east Wales is met for the rest of Wales, then it's in the indefinite future. So, for the next 10, maybe 15 years, it seems to me, whatever is adopted by means of this national development framework, it's not really going to be of any use to you, at the local level, and particularly in the field of house building—we're going to be flying blind. So, what is the advantage of this? In the absence of SDPs, what's the impact going to be on house building? You already pointed out, in relation to Monmouth, the paralysing effect that this creates. And where the housing markets cross local authority boundaries, then you've got a similar problem, which is compounded, perhaps. So, I'd like to have your view on how the absence of strategic development plans then impacts upon this national development framework.

I think it's absolutely key that we have SDPs in place, and Welsh Government needs to do more to ensure that local authorities do more to make sure that they are, because you look at the NDF—a big chunk of the NDF sets the scene and sets a framework for the development of SDPs. And the assumption is that you have that hierarchical system of an NDF, an SDP, and LDPs. And without that, yes, it's a massive challenge. If you only had the NDF and the LDP, as you said, it is a bit of a shell.

I mean, it's quite clear that Welsh Government wish that we operated in a plan-led system, and there are various other changes going on within planning that are pushing us more and more into a plan-led system, which, as an industry, we've got no objection to. But where we currently are is, we've only got LDPs. SDPs are something that we'd—[Inaudible.]—rather, and it links in with all the regional working agenda.

But the concern at the moment with the NDF, and I've touched on it already, is that it sort of talks about things that will effectively stop LDPs happening. You know, I've mentioned the green belt. Another probably more fundamental one is around growth areas. So, because the NDF is saying growth should only happen in Newport and other certain areas, lots of other authorities are going to go, 'Well, how do we now take our LDP forward? Can we actually promote growth in this area, because we're actually contrary to the NDF?' So, the worry is that although it makes sense if everything was in line, in the meantime, we've got to just be careful that the NDF policies don't stop LDPs being able to continue to be reviewed, because they have to be reviewed every four years. I mean, of the 22 authorities, 11 LDPs in Wales are currently starting their review or are at early stages of their review. Monmouth, again, coming back, they were about to go out to consultation on their strategy, which included, potentially, a new settlement and significant growth. Now, the national development framework says 'no' to new settlements, and also the area that they were potentially going to grow in is potentially green belt. So, Monmouth have just been stopped from taking their plan forward, yet they haven't got a five-year land supply and they're not building the houses that are needed.

10:05

So, the principal recommendation we could make is that we should get on with the strategic development plans for designing a national development framework.

Yes, currently there is no requirement to do an SDP. The legislation allows you to do it, but there's no penalty or reward for doing it.

No, well, you say in your written evidence there's

'currently no guarantee or requirement for SDPs to be commenced or adopted.'

So, that's a fundamental hole in the system.

But it's also the case, is it not, that not all areas might be covered by an SDP.

It's their choice, at the moment. My understanding is it's likely through the local government Act, where the regional working will come in and the regional boards, then that is likely to say, 'You have to do an SDP to support your region.' But the further complication is how that SDP sits with, then, the city deal or growth deal, and which one takes the lead.

And the regional partnerships being recommended within the Pamment review as well, in terms of some join-up between local authorities, but local authorities and RSLs and the private sector in terms of joint ventures to deliver social and affordable housing.

But I think you hit the nail on the head. House building is local, but place making is probably not. It's probably more pan-region, it's probably more strategic and, in essence, that's the crux of what this national development framework is trying to promote, I think, and trying to promote that collaboration on the regional level so that we don't have this situation where each local authority is having a demand to meet their own specific housing market assessment. It's more of a strategic, joined-up approach where we develop, where we can build sustainable communities that have job opportunities that mean people don't have to travel, et cetera, which meets the climate change agenda, where services are currently being delivered, where transport networks are currently in place. Otherwise, if we carry on the way we're carrying on with that LDP approach at the base, then we're going to be putting more demand on travel infrastructure, services, et cetera. So, I think that's what this framework seems to be doing, but it's the elephant in the room: how do we get that collaboration at a regional level? It's been what we've been trying to do for the best part of 20 years since the start of devolution.

We've touched briefly, very briefly, on affordable housing, I'd just like it maybe if you could elaborate on your views around the affordable housing proposals and the balance between affordable housing and market housing that's being proposed.

From my point of view, I think this document presumes that market housing and affordable housing are mutually exclusive. Ultimately, the more market houses you deliver, the more affordable housing you should get. I think the NDF splits—. In terms of the affordable housing numbers, we're more than happy with that, and we absolutely recognise that there's a dire need for more affordable housing, but, at the same time, if the plan is to prevent market housing from flourishing, then you're cutting off quite a big avenue of affordable housing. About a third of affordable housing is delivered by the private sector.

We see the NDF as overly focused on affordable housing, and it presumes that delivering more affordable housing means that market housing can't flourish. In our eyes, if we do more to promote market housing, we believe that more affordable housing would be delivered, whereas this document goes down the route of affordable housing, social housing. There's not enough mention here and recognition of the contribution that market housing makes to provide affordable housing.

Although it has been said to us in evidence that it's a bit wrong headed that affordable housing should be a by-product of market housing.

Well, one of the quotes from the NDF is that it says that affordable housing delivery has been over-reliant on the private sector. But, as the Federation of Master Builders, we represent small and medium-sized construction firms, and we don't think SME construction firms have had a fair crack at the whip in terms of delivering homes, full stop. So, to tell the SME sector that they haven't delivered, that there's a failure there, we don't feel that the SME house building sector has had a fair crack of the whip because of the barriers that have been put in place to market delivery.

Back in the 1980s, 40 per cent of all new homes were delivered by SMEs; today it's down to 10 per cent, and it's dwindling. So, to then say that market housing—. I agree, the status quo is that we have five PLCs delivering three quarters of our homes, and that status quo doesn't work. That status quo won't deliver you affordable housing. But then to say in the round that the market isn't delivering affordable housing and can't do so, we'd disagree with that as well. So we think that, for the SME side of market delivery, there's more of a role that they can play, rather than just to categorise it as 'Market housing can't deliver affordable houses.'

10:10

Market housing wouldn't deliver the percentage of affordable housing that's expected here, but of course, it isn't solely the job of the market to deliver that, I suppose.

No, absolutely. But I don't feel that it's recognised here that the market could do more to deliver affordable housing.

Can I come in with two points on this? One is: local authorities don't make available enough very small plots for one, two, three or four houses. They don't exist. In Swansea's local development plan, it does not go below land large enough for 10 houses. There are lots of infill sites that will take one or two houses, which don't appear to be being developed, and that's really where the small builder comes in. Would you agree that one of the ways that building market houses can actually produce affordable houses is that, if we can get people moving within the housing market, so that a lot of those houses that are currently lived in by people in the private rented sector can actually move back to being owner-occupied again, that would produce more affordable housing for people who are currently privately renting, because all the houses in that low-cost area are being bought up by landlords?

Yes. [Laughter.]

I think, fundamentally, the document, in terms of housing, doesn't start with the heading 'Housing', it starts with the heading, 'Affordable housing'. So, that's why we believe there is just a clear lack of support for private house building. In fact, I think the only real comment I can find in it is in the Minister's opening statement, where she accuses us of a lack of delivery in the past. 

Whether we like it or not, we currently have a system in Wales, and across the UK, where affordable housing is delivered through the private sector and, as my colleague has said, it's been a third. It's probably going to go up in the next few years, because we are seeing the percentage requirement in LDPs, as they come on line, getting higher. The old unitary development plans had lower percentages and higher thresholds. So, the issue is, if we bring in a plan that effectively significantly reduces that supply, is the alternative capable of meeting the whole? But it's not just meeting the whole, it's also the fact that it's got to deliver more as well. So, the document's suggesting that local authorities using public sector land should be delivering a figure that is twice the amount that's currently being delivered. So that's enough of a challenge anyway, but if you take away the other half that's been delivered or reduce the other half that's been delivered by the private sector, it's becoming more of a challenge. So, that's the worry with what this document does. Certainly there'll be a period of probably two, three or four years where we'll just see affordable housing levels dipping, and that will create a backlog and we'll just get back into this issue of not delivering enough. 

I'd start by saying there's a dire need for social housing stock, let alone affordable housing stock, across Wales, and I highlighted some of the figures around homelessness, et cetera, that we're experiencing at the moment. So the crisis is acute. So, we welcome the broad ambition of the higher percentage in terms of affordable housing set out within the NDF.

I referred to Holmans and the statistical analysis—I mean, that's more for statistical experts to talk to you about—but in terms of the mix and the lack of help that private house builders have been given, £11.7 billion has been spent on Help to Buy across the UK, which, arguably, is pretty much a direct subsidy to the big house builders. It's seen them get record profits since Help to Buy was introduced. And I predicate what I'm saying now by saying they're a fundamental partner in this; they have to be. We cannot deliver those numbers without the private sector developers being on board, so I predicate that. But to say that they don't get any help, I think, is a bit misleading. The caveat of getting that investment through Help to Buy was section 106, delivering affordable housing particularly, but also wider community developments. And again, I predicate what I'm going to say by saying that this is not endemic; there's a lot of good examples, but we've seen recent examples in the media where those section 106 agreements have been reneged on, and we haven't had affordable units being delivered. So, that public subsidy is going in, but we're not perhaps getting the outcomes in terms of the social and affordable housing supply that we would expect from that.

So, we do need to redress the tenure balance. Clearly, there is a need for more social and affordable housing stock. I would just say that the unintended consequences of doing this, which is what we're trying to work through in terms of the implementation of the Pamment review at the moment, is that private developers may be saying that this is not viable, particularly in terms of the 50 per cent requirement on public land, in terms of the green carbon-neutral requirements, in terms of the development quality requirements and standards that we want to push across tenures, so that everyone has an equal housing experience. Those are things that we should be doing, but there are possibly unintended consequences to that which we have to work through.   

10:15

So, the question then is: how do we make it achievable? Answers on a postcard. 

Well, public land is the big thing, isn't it? If the Government wants 50 per cent of public land for affordable, how do we max out that almost grant allocation, in a sense, by making that public land available cheaper than market value price, so that you build in viability through that? So, there are mechanisms to use public land in a way that can make sites more viable and still maintain that 50 per cent viability in terms of affordability. But then you've got all the other stuff that the affordable housing review says about standards, et cetera. You can't have cross-tenure estates where you have one half that are meeting the DQR and others aren't. This goes to the crux of the place-making issue, doesn't it? 

If I could just quickly come back. On Help to Buy, you all know the headline figures: 9,000 people in Wales have bought a home, and 76 per cent of those have been first-time buyers. Ultimately, it does run out in 2021, and the Welsh Government currently aren't able to advise on the two-year extension. We don't know what's going to happen in central Government but, at the moment, the best we get is a two-year extension. This plan is for the next 20 years, so Help to Buy isn't around forever, so that's important to understand. 

I want to ask you whether you think the level of direction for the strategic development plans in the draft NDF is appropriate, and we know that that's not the case because you've already said that there are big problems with SDPs. But moving on and beyond that, what about the regions that have been chosen? Do you have any comments about the regions that have been chosen, and does that regional footprint impact on housing delivery, which is what you're here to talk about? 

Just in terms of the regions, I don't really understand the reason why Welsh Government commissioned Cardiff University to look into this and, obviously, Cardiff University research recommended four regions, and then the NDF came back with three. My understanding is that the reason for that is because Welsh Government are keen to align the NDF with the economic action plan. But I don't think that addresses the issue. It just says, 'Well, it's what we're doing, that's the decision that has been taken, so everything we do now has to align with that.' Because, for me, it just feels that mid Wales, because it's small in terms of population, has just been bolted on to west Wales. There are no economic links, there are no transport links and, yes, I don't really understand the reasoning for that.

It's two and a half hours from my house in Swansea to Machynlleth, a road I drive regularly; it's not commutable. Any other comments? 

The regions have already been decided, in effect, haven't they? We have the city region deal, we have the north Wales growth, and we have—. Sorry, you were going to say something.

10:20

We haven't, because we've got a mid Wales growth deal, and the mid Wales growth deal has been added to the Swansea bay city region. So, we've had a sort of addition to it, and neither mid Wales nor the Swansea bay city region are happy. 

I think the point I was going to make is that we are clearly heading in a regional direction in Wales. I think the importance is that we get alignment. There was some work done by the Royal Town Planning Institute a couple of years ago, where they looked at all the sort of maps that were available that affected policy, and there was something like 100 maps, and none of them had the same boundaries on. So, I think that's the critical things for regional—. We're not objecting to regional working, but we need to ensure that it does align across all the people who will be involved in it. 

Yes, and again, in terms of the Pamment review, they recommended a regional approach, a regional partnership to be developed in terms of delivering social and affordable housing. Now, that clearly feeds directly into this, and the relationships that it has with private house builders. And, more strategically, if you want to grow Wales, and grow the nation, the big talking point of devolution for 20 years has been the number of local authorities and whether they work together in a cohesive and collaborative way to deliver at a strategic level. Now, if we're saying that placemaking is the No. 1 target of our development framework for the next 20 years, then we can't do that at 22 different levels, can we?

I don't think we're going to get into a discussion about local authorities this morning, but, from everything you've said and others have said, it doesn't seem that, unless I've misunderstood you, you think that the three areas are appropriate. I wasn't sure, Matthew, whether you—

No, we think they're appropriate, based on the direction, as Mark says, of where we're heading. I suppose the issue is what the main mechanisms are within those regions. So, there's some confusion emerging about whether it's regional partnership boards, whether it's public services boards. So, there are lots of things going on within those regions where there are partnerships emerging, but we don't have a sort of cohesive understanding of which ones are the drivers in terms of, particularly, the delivery of affordable and social housing. 

I wanted to look at the national growth areas, and the smaller supporting regional growth areas, and particularly the flood risk issues that exist, because, obviously, the overarching thing is the climate emergency. So, I just wondered if you'd like to elaborate a little bit on why you think that the plan is not adequately framing the arguments in the way you want. You've argued in your papers that there's inadequate attention to the cross-subsidy and that the NDF doesn't support the growth aspirations for Wales. So, why do you think that these locations that we've identified for growth are not the right ones as far as you're concerned?

I think it links back to a fundamental issue with this plan, which I'm aware that lots of other people have mentioned to you in earlier sessions, which is the lack of evidence. And it's at this point that it's this high-level plan—

No, sorry, evidence to support the policies. So, the point that we've made, and others have made, is that the plan is talking about higher levels of growth in terms of house building than we currently have in Wales. We're building fewer than 6,000 a year, but it's talking about building at least another 2,000 a year. But it's then saying we want to limit development to some very specific areas, and one of those areas, which is a really good example, is Newport, where lots of people will say 'Well, what land in Newport can you build on?' Most of it's covered by flood zone. Lots of it is heavily contaminated from previous uses. Lots of it is, yes, brownfield land, but may not be actually very sustainable and a suitable location for people to live in. 

So, if, when you start actually trying to deliver these homes, you find out there isn't enough land in the areas identified, the plan doesn't allow you to go anywhere else.  

Okay. So, let's just accept the argument that Newport is a flood zone. It's been badged as an area to support the growth of the capital city, but there are other places we can look to for supporting the growth in jobs in the capital city, namely the south Wales Valleys, which obviously are dependent on the south Wales metro. So, is that not a suitable alternative place for this growth? 

10:25

The Valleys are mentioned. So, the growth area for south-east Wales talks about Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys. I think our view is that we've seen a long history of plans attempting to drive development further up the Valleys, and they've just not delivered. 

I admit we should have had the south Wales metro earlier, but we are where we are; we are now delivering it. We are really at pace now that Transport for Wales has taken over. Given that we're talking about the next 20 years, you don't think that that is a credible plan?

I think there is room—there is room, but I think that it needs to be slightly more specific than just saying 'for the Valleys'. And, for instance, it talks about development, and I think one of your further questions is around transport nodes. Well, yes, there are lots of transport nodes in the Valleys, which are going to get improvement, but if you look at them currently, they're already heavily developed around, because that's the way we developed in the past.

So, is there actually room to develop around existing transport hubs, or should we be saying, actually, there are lots of transport routes, particularly rail, which run through areas where there's no development at the moment, but development could happen, and should we be putting in a new station and actually designing the development from day one so that it's walkable and cycleable rather than trying to retrofit walking routes and cycle routes into existing high-density urban areas?

Okay, I think that's something we would want to look at. Clearly, there is a paucity of suburban routes on the east side of Cardiff, which is one of the major problems, but it would be perfectly possible to develop these suburban routes. The lines exist; they're just not being used in the way we would like to see. 

I just think, as Mark alluded to, just a bit of flexibility is key. So, broadly speaking, land that's in and around Cardiff and the Valleys that's available for development, if it's not being developed, there's probably a reason for that and it's usually around viability, but obviously, moving forward, what we want, over the next 20 years, is the metro, et cetera, coming in and more job prospects et cetera, and then the demand will be there, and house builders will obviously build. But economic plans and infrastructure plans don't always go according to plan, and all three very much need to be aligned, but if things don't go to plan and if things don't pan out like we want them to, then we need to have that flexibility within the system to be able to develop elsewhere.

I'm not sure. You don't support the idea that we should only have large-scale development where there are decent transport infrastructures.

No, I do, but there's just an assumption—. If you look at the Valleys as an example, in terms of regeneration, we've tried to regenerate the Valleys for many, many years and we've had relative success, but it's still a very economically poor area, where housing demand isn't what it is in more affluent areas. So, the point I'm trying to make is that we shouldn't just assume that putting the south Wales metro in future economic plans will solve that, because it hasn't in the past.

But we haven't had it in the past, so how can we argue that that isn't going to work?

Well, this is another—. So, if you take the economic action plan, we've had other economic plans over a number of years that failed to deliver. So, to assume that this particular one will—. Obviously, the metro should help, but we are presuming here that the metro's going to solve things and that—

That the metro is—? Sorry, I didn't catch your last word? The metro is—?

Will solve the economic problems that you have in the Valleys, and making that presumption and basing a 20-year housing plan on that, without that flexibility—. If things don't go according to plan, we need to have a bit of flexibility to be able to deliver elsewhere.

10:30

But the problem if you do that is that house builders will simply gravitate to the elsewhere. So, it seems to me that if you've got a national development framework, you want to establish where you actually want to direct housing. I'm sure there will be some house builders who will want to build on Bute park, but we aren't going to let them. So, we're going to have to establish areas of growth that are sustainable—i.e. they've got decent transport links. 

If I could add to that, we've heard the word 'placemaking' used a number of times, and it links with sustainability. I think transport is only one part of that. What this document also talks about is building in areas where there are the wider facilities—so, the schools, the shops, the leisure centres, as all the things that people need to be able to—. The problem is we haven't got many areas in the Valleys where we've got that. Even if we push development into those areas, we're unlikely to get a scale of development that will generate anything more than maybe a small school or a small local shop. 

We've seen large developments of thousands of houses being built where only very small levels of facilities are built.

Well, that's just poor planning, though, isn't it? To allow housing to be developed without schools and shops is, I agree, deplorable. But that's been poor planning. 

That could be argued, but it's also around the actual way people live and what facilities people want. But the point really is that we're not saying 'no' to the Valleys, but I think it would be better if the plans identified the areas, the more sustainable locations, the better transport—

Well, where there's a range of facilities, where the stations are going to be improved, have the park-and-ride facilities associated with them, have the better transport links to them, rather than just presuming it's going to be across the whole area. 

I want to test this, because I find it's almost a circular argument. We've done this before and it didn't work, so therefore if we do it again—. Well, we're not talking about doing the same thing again. The national development framework, the strategic plan, the economic plan are all saying that we recognise that what we did in the past didn't work, so we want to do things differently. And doing things differently, you have talked about and mentioned some of it, and that is taking—. There's a presumption here that the travel-to-work area for the Valleys is always going to be Cardiff, but the thinking that I've heard is about trying to use the innovation that is now currently available to make work, for example, in terms of your industry. It is feasible, is it not, to actually build some off-site manufacturing in your industry in those areas.

So, you know, if we start thinking outside the box, instead of the box that hasn't delivered, and then put the things together, surely we're going to have a different outcome? That's what this is about. It isn't about what we did in the past, because we know that was the past; this is the future and it's talking about going forward. So, I just have to ask this: going forward with new thinking, not past thinking, and looking at these locations, whether its Newport, the Valleys, Deeside or anywhere else, do you not agree that there is real potential to change, to use the industry that you are in, in trying to move this forward? Because you've already said there are skill shortages. We know that there is an age profile that is troublesome. We know that there is a gender profile that's troublesome in your industry. So, you need to change that. So, can't you agree at least that what we're trying to do here we can do together to make some success?

I wouldn't disagree with any of that, and it kind of alludes to the point I was making earlier about perhaps what's missing from the framework document is identifying housing as one of the key core drivers, particularly the modular methods of construction, offsite manufacturing, the green agenda. But it's a sort of chicken-and-egg argument, isn't it? As you point out, the reason why these guys don't develop in those areas is because of a lack of viability. So, how do we create that, where there's going to be additional cost for units, et cetera, and additional costs on development, whilst creating the kind of viability that these guys need to develop? Now, that is work that's ongoing in different workstreams, particularly the Pamment review. But, yes—do we intensify, or do we look to build brand new places and build the services, the infrastructure there and the jobs, or do we just intensify around the economic centres that we already have? I think we need to do both, but how do we make the places where we need to develop, in those areas that aren't the centre of economic development at the moment, viable to house builders?

10:35

Can I throw two things at you? The first one is the M4. The M4, the corridor there—in the Llansamlet area, we've had huge housing and commercial development. You've had exactly the same at the old former BP Llandarcy site, Coed Darcy. Where you've got easy access to transportation, then you've seen huge growth. We also know that trains can do the same thing. How do we know that? The Bedford-St Pancras line—once that became a high speed, or a relatively high-speed, line, you could get from Bedford in an hour. All of a sudden, that became an area of growth. The Southampton to London line—again, once that became a fast way of getting into London, you've seen growth in the outskirts of Southampton. So, we do know, don't we, that, where you have good rail links around London, you've tended to grow the conurbations. And we also know, where you've had good road links, you've also grown the conurbation right the way along—you've got it outside Bridgend, you've got it at Coed Darcy, you've got it in Port Talbot on the outskirts of Margam Park; we've got the whole length along there. And you've also got the growth in the lower Rhondda Cynon Taf area, which is just off junction 33, which I know well and queue outside a lot.

I suppose—. I don't disagree that that's a fact; we see that happen. I think, unfortunately, I would suspect that many people would think that that happening would be contrary to many of the other ambitions within the plan. So, that's sort of accepting that Cardiff is where everybody works, and everybody jumps on the train and goes to work in Cardiff, because that's what London's done. All those places have grown—those people all jump on trains and go into London to work.

I think that's a misreading of the south Wales metro plan—

Because I think the idea is that the jobs will be moving up the line.

But the point I'm making is that the model that's been used in the current example isn't that model. That model is that people are able to get to the core city, where the jobs are. So, we have to understand that if we want—. What I'm saying is that that's contradictory to our model. And I agree with you, the NDF is saying we want facilities and jobs in the area where people live and cutting down travel. So, the argument is: actually, why do you need to put a metro in?

Because we don't want Cardiff turning into Caerphilly—that's why.

The metro would allow people who live in Cardiff, yes, to travel outwards, but there's got to be a reason to travel out there.

Yes, indeed. But, if you can get back into Cardiff for your strategic meeting, you're likely to be attracted by lower rents for your business than in Cardiff. 

Potentially. I think the issue around all of this, and it comes back to the point that Joyce made earlier, is around the scalability of all of this. And, yes, they're all good ideas, and they're all ideas that my members are looking at, and the industry is looking at, but the bottom line is that we're being told by the plan the minimum number of houses we should be building is 8,000 plus a year. In the last three years we've built less than 6,000. So, we need to have some continuity to keep the numbers going rather than jumping to new and untried systems that are unlikely to deliver at the scale that we need. Council housing—two years ago they built 15 units, this year they built 65 units; next year it will be a couple of hundred.

10:40

No, no; there are going to be many more built than that. 

Well, no. There will in time, but it will take three, four or five years for local authorities—

The old way of delivering things hasn't worked, because we haven't got the amount of affordable housing that we need, so we have to try something different. So, that's why we're proposing something different. 

Just specifically on green belts, because it seems to me that that's key to the national development framework, we've got two green belts proposed: one in south-east Wales—well, maybe more than one, but around both Cardiff and Newport—and the other in north-east Wales. And I just wondered if you think they're adequate, sufficient. Should there be others? But you understand why we need a green belt, because otherwise we will simply have Caerphilly becoming a suburb of Cardiff. 

Our point on green belts is—. We're not objecting to green belts in principle. I've already identified the problem with the hierarchy of plans, and this plan doesn't actually tell us the specifics of the green belt, it just says it should be in that area. 

But you can understand what the purpose of the green belt is—

But I think what we should be doing is—. The strategic development plan is the place to do the green belt, but we need to understand, rather than just washing a large area and saying 'no development'—. The issue with green belts is their permanency. So, they last for 50 years. They're very hard to undo. So, without understanding have you got capacity in the urban areas, will the development in the Valleys, will all the other things happen, to very suddenly go, 'There's no development in this area', puts at risk the fact that, in a few years' time, we might be finding, actually, we can't develop in all those other areas, but we still need to build houses, so where can we build them? So, there are some very specific areas where green belt could be—. And our own view would be that the starting point for green belt should have been—. The Cardiff plan, the Newport plan, the Monmouth plan propose small areas of green belt, because they recognise they were to stop that coalescence, and that should have been the starting point, rather than just this large swathe of land. 

Can I just come in here? At a philosophical level, this feeds directly into what Joyce was talking about in terms of place making, which is fundamentally what this document is about. It's joining up place so that we cut down on travel, we cut down on carbon emissions, et cetera, et cetera. Now, from an ideological perspective, 'yes' to green belts, obviously. But, if there's a way that we can develop land in the green belt that, for example, on the Llŷn in north Wales, where there's woodland, we can develop that modern methods of construction factory hub, develop the skills around that, et cetera, develop a foundational economy model with a small-sized development of mixed tenure community, then that would be sustainable and sensible to do, rather than carry on building on and trying to build in areas where it's unviable for the private developers to build. 

But development in the Llŷn doesn't in any way relate to what we might do in north-east Wales. 

No. It's just an example. 

It may be a different sort of foundational economy model, like in Swansea, for example. That's the opposing in terms of intensification in High Street, which was a rundown area for many years, and Coastal Housing developed a tech hub, which brought in an anchor media organisation and other media organisations around it, all the service sector within that—shops, barbers, cafes, et cetera—built around 240 affordable and social housing units, and 60 per cent of the people living in there work within—. So, why can't we—[Inaudible.]

And we should celebrate success. We need to do it; I agree that we need to do more of that sort of thing. But just specifically on green belts, what do you think the safeguard should be? If we're going to establish green belts, I understand they need to be for the long term. So, do they need to have mechanisms, sustainable mechanisms, for crossing them so that future development can be on the other side of the green belt?

No, I'm not saying wholesale development on the green belt, but I think we have to be a bit more fluid and organic about where we develop. If we want to develop places that are sustainable, where people don't have to travel 40 miles down the M4 to work in their petrol-emitting car, or whatever, then we need to develop these sustainable economic hubs with the services there that they can walk to, et cetera. 

Okay. Do other panel members want to come in at this point, or are you happy with the proposals on green belts, or do you think they should be more clearly specified, or we should await the SDP? 

10:45

I think—. One of the problems with the kind of—. The NDF talks a lot about developing on already existing urban areas, and I just think there's a slight over-reliance on the assumption that we have a lot of public sector land in these areas to develop.  

Well, one of the things we'd like to see is where are these areas of public land. 

Absolutely, yes. When I talk to members, they don't seem to know where they are. 

Yes. It comes back to what I was saying earlier, which is I'm all for plan A, which is to create these—. Well, what the NDF is proposing, I'm all for plan A, but it's having that flexibility—if plan A doesn't work, that we've got a plan B, and, in terms of that green belt, it is having that flexibility of putting sustainable developments potentially outside that green belt, as Matt was alluding to earlier. 

Okay. Well, as we haven't defined where this green belt is going to be, we can accommodate sustainable development in areas close to them before we actually lay down this 50-year halt on development in specific areas. 

Apart from green belts, we have white wedges, don't we? These are areas to stop communities running into each other; they've got a gap between Dunvant and Three Crosses so that they don't become Dunvant/Three Crosses. They have gaps in lots of places. There's one between Llangyfelach and Morriston, which is, effectively, the golf course, which they actually try and do to try and stop having these huge urban sprawls.   

Often between social and affordable in market sales. 

Well, actually, no, not in Swansea, they don't; they tend to exist between newer communities to try and stop it all becoming one blur. The one between Llanelli or Hendy and Pontarddulais, for example, stopped Llanelli becoming part of the greater Swansea. Unfortunately, Birchgrove had grown into Skewen before that happened. 

What we currently have in the planning system in Wales is, effectively, what you're talking about, which is settlement boundaries. So, you then have strong policies to say development shouldn't happen outside settlement boundaries, other than on allocated sites. So, that's where we are at the moment. To sum up, our position on the green belt would be that we don't mind the planners saying a green belt should be considered and then leave it to the SDP where it can look at the detail of where the boundaries are, but it shouldn't say you have to have one without any evidence or any idea of where it actually should be.  

Yes. We've spoken a bit about some of the rural areas around urban areas like Swansea and, of course, there's a great focus on urban growth, on regional growth areas, and then it talks about supporting rural areas as opposed to driving any kind of growth in those rural areas. So, I'm just wondering what does this draft NDF tell you about the prospect of meeting rural housing needs, if anything? 

A gaf i ymateb yn Gymraeg? O ran hyn, mae sôn yn y fframwaith yma ynglŷn â chefnogi adeiladwyr bach, a beth welwch chi o ran y cwmnïau mawr yma sy'n adeiladu'r rhan helaeth o'n tai ni, maen nhw'n tueddu i adeiladu mewn ardaloedd mwy ffyniannus—coridor yr M4, coridor yr A55—ac, yn y lleoedd mwy gwledig, dydy'r cwmnïau mawr yma ddim yn tueddu i adeiladu. Mae yna fwlch enfawr yn fanna felly i gwmnïau bach lleol i adeiladu tai ond, eto, fel roeddwn i'n sôn, o achos y rhwystrau sydd yn eu ffordd nhw—y broses gynllunio yn or-gymhleth, yn rhy ddrud, diffyg mynediad i gyllid, diffyg plots bach o dir, ac yn y blaen—o ran y cynlluniau lleol, ac eithrio sir Gâr, dim ond datblygiadau o 10 neu fwy y gwnaiff cynlluniau lleol eu hystyried.

Felly, mae'n anodd iawn i adeiladwyr bach i adeiladu, ac mae'r bwlch yna'n bodoli. Felly, mi allai hynny fod yn broblem fawr dros y blynyddoedd, achos mae'r fframwaith yma yn sôn am gefnogi cwmnïau bach lleol i adeiladu tai yn y lleoedd mwy gwledig, ond mae angen rhyw fath o chwyldro, achos dydy’r newidiadau sydd wedi digwydd yn ddiweddar ddim yn ddigon.  

If I may answer in Welsh, in terms of this issue, I think it does talk about this in the framework in terms of supporting smaller construction companies, and what you'll see in terms of these major companies that build the majority of our housing, they tend to build in more prosperous areas, such as the M4 and A55 corridors, and, in the more rural areas, these major companies don't tend to be building. So, there's a huge gap there for smaller local companies to be building homes, but, as we talked about, because of the barriers they face—the over-complexity and expense of the planning system, a lack of access to finance, a lack of small plots of land and so forth, in terms of the LDPs, excepting Carmarthenshire, it's only developments of 10 or more that the LDPs will be considering. 

So, it's very difficult for small builders to build, and so that gap exists. Now, this could be a major problem over the years, because the NDF talks about supporting small local companies to build homes in more rural areas, but there is a need for some kind of revolution, because the changes that have happened recently aren't enough. 

Felly, a oes yna ddigon o ffocws? Achos, hynny yw, mae angen rhyw elfen o dwf mewn ardaloedd gwledig sydd ddim, o beth welaf i, yn fan hyn. Mae rhyw fath o awgrymu mai cefnogi cymunedau gwledig i gario ymlaen a thrio gwneud eu gorau, math o beth, tra bod yna dipyn o ffocws ar dyfu twf rhanbarthol mewn ardaloedd eraill. Ond byddech chi'n dweud bod rhoi cyfle i'r adeiladwyr bach yn rhan o'r ateb yna.

So, is there sufficient focus? Because we need some element of growth in rural areas, which, as far as I see, isn't in this document. There's sort of a suggestion of supporting rural communities to carry on and try to do their best, whereas there's quite a focus on growing regional growth in other areas. But you would say that smaller constructors are part of that answer.

10:50

Wel, yn sicr, ac yn enwedig pan dŷch chi'n ystyried pethau fel yr economi sylfaen, mae'n hollbwysig ein bod ni yn datblygu cwmnïau, achos mae yna anghenion dybryd am dai hefyd yn yr ardaloedd gwledig.

Well, certainly, and then when you consider things such as the foundational economy, it's crucial that we do develop our companies, because there are great needs for homes in rural areas also.

I'd just like to pick up on this point you're making about how the LDP will only capture development of housing larger than 10 units, and that it's too expensive. So, is that something you'd like to see the NDF flag up—the need to make the planning process less cumbersome and expensive, in order to enable small-scale growth to be easier to achieve?

Yes. I think the focus in terms of—. We want a plan-led system, but the LDPs don't tend to consider any developments that are under 10. So, if you're looking to bring a site forward that's under 10 units, then they would tend to be windfall sites, and there are a lot more risks associated with that, and a lot less certainty. But it's just about making house building more of an appealing field for local SMEs, especially in the rural areas.

Of course, if we were having this conversation 30 years ago, we'd be talking about self-build. There was a substantial self—. I can only talk about Swansea, but in Swansea there was substantial self-build, and there were streets that were self-built by individuals using builders. That seems to have declined, and declined massively over recent times.

The Government launched their own self-build scheme in January, I think. I don't know how much money they've put into it, but I suppose the other solution, if you like, in rural areas, is the idea of community land trusts, which I know has taken hold in Pembrokeshire. So, you have facilities there that have closed down, you have land, and public land is going to be key to this again, at subsidised levels, where you can—. Again, you have to make it viable for private sector development, but, again, there's probably going to be more SMEs in there. And, again, you're creating that foundational economy model. So, it's about this idea of making place. Is there enough reference to it in the NDF? Probably not.

Do you agree that the innovative housing schemes have demonstrated it's perfectly viable to deliver the type of housing that we need, as economically viable—

The innovative housing programme?

Yes, but, again, the unit cost of developing that at the moment is much higher than the bricks and mortar development, so you need more housing grant.

I think it's what you mean by 'viability'. What the housing industry generally thinks about viability is the cost to be able to do it. Well, the innovative programme hasn't shown it's viable, because it's required grants for all those schemes to happen. So, it's not viable in pure money terms. If you're talking about wider viability: is it practical, will people live in them, will people be buying them—yes, obviously, it is helping to demonstrate and show that some of these techniques—. Also, although, to be fair, the private sector were able to engage with it, they haven't, for whatever reason, at any significant level. So, at the moment, most of the people living in these houses are tenants. So, to be able to say that the market demands that these houses are built like this, the innovative housing programme doesn't necessarily evidence that, because they're being lived in by tenants who, ultimately, are just happy to have a house.

But they also benefit from many of the things that you get from that type of housing.

There's the affordability issue, isn't there. They're generally more affordable to live in—

When you've finished there—. I didn't mean to cut across you. Can Joyce come in after you've finished, Matthew, sorry?

I was just saying that, whilst the unit cost of building these modular homes, off-site constructions, are higher than building traditional-style houses, the saving comes over the long term, in terms of the energy bills saved. So, it's particularly prevalent for social housing and affordable housing stock. Because the key to all this is affordability at the end of the day, isn't it—how can you provide affordable homes, affordable housing options for everyone in Wales?

Well, the key is sustainable—[Inaudible.]—and not just looking at cost—[Inaudible.]—over the lifetime of the house. 

10:55

Can you let Joyce come in, because she's got a point on this?

I want to follow back through with Llyr and express the same thinking, that supporting is a great model, but growing, where possible, is equally relevant. And since we're trying to take evidence from you, so that we can move forward and make recommendations on the national development framework, and recognising, as I do, the role of small house builders in those particular given areas, what is it that you would like to say to us that needs consideration going forward?

In terms of the support the SMEs require—is that what you're getting at?

So, I think the big issue in terms of a lack of SME developers is just that we don't have enough of them, and the reason for that is that the planning process is so complex and is so expensive, and also there's lack of access to finance. The Welsh Government have got a property development fund that's run by the development bank, but you can only get that once you've got planning in place. To get into that stage is a very expensive process. So, for an SME construction company that wants to get into the house-building game, they need to find £50,000 or £100,000 from somewhere, and there's no access to that finance, really. So, that could be a bit of an issue with the NDF in terms of—there's talk about supporting SMEs to deliver this, especially when you're talking about urban sites and brownfield sites et cetera. They would tend to be SMEs, developing those types of sites, and, unfortunately, at the moment, you just don't have those SMEs to deliver them. So, that needs to be considered.

We've got Hygrove Homes in Swansea, which are developed on the old Morris Brothers site, and they've also developed on a brownfield site in Pontarddulais.

Absolutely. So, unfortunately, Hygrove Homes are the exception rather than the norm in terms of SMEs actually developing.

If I could just add to that, we mustn't forget that SMEs are private house builders. And we come back to my fundamental point that this plan doesn't support private house builders enough. So, if we want to support SMEs, by their nature—. What the document does talk about and there's general rhetoric—Welsh Government is far more around partnershipping. There are two examples of partnershipping delivering affordable housing in Wales at the moment that I'm aware of—two big examples—which is Cardiff and Flintshire. Now, they're both partners with Wates, which are a national company. So, in terms of delivering for the local economy and using local SMEs, those partnerships haven't worked and there's no reason to suggest why local authorities—. And we've seen, unfortunately, partnerships with local builders fail—one in Powys made the news. So, that's an area that needs to be looked at.

Just fundamental points more generally—not just SMEs, but this is our response to the Pamment review as well—there's going to be a need for a lot of upfront investment, particularly in skills, not just construction, and new and innovative ways of constructing homes, but also in terms of planning. There is a 56 per cent reduction in planning numbers within local authorities since 2010. So, we need upfront investment in skills to bring developments forward, and making it viable. So, the easiest way to do that is through land—making land more affordable so that we reduce the cost price, and that is freeing up public land at below market value.

And at that point, can I thank the three people on the panel for coming in today? We've come to the end of this session, and we've got somebody else coming in in about 30 seconds. So, thank you very much for coming along.

You'll have a transcript of this. I always advise people to check the transcript, not because they'll put down things that you've said wrongly, but if you're anything like me and you move around when you're speaking, sometimes it doesn't catch some of the words. So, consequently, can I urge you to check it, and if some words are missing, can you send them in? I always do, and I quite often lose a few words by just having moved around, especially if I look at somebody—the microphone doesn't always pick me up.

But thank you very much for coming in. I've found it very helpful, I'm sure the committee has. We look forward to producing our final report. Thank you very much.

11:00
5. Fframwaith Datblygu Cenedlaethol Drafft 2020-2040 - sesiwn dystiolaeth 4 - Datgarboneiddio
5. Draft National Development Framework 2020 - 2040 - evidence session 4 - Decarbonisation

Bore da. Good morning. Can I welcome you both to the meeting this morning: Mari Arthur, director, Sustain Wales, and Professor Dave Chadwick, professor of sustainable land use systems, Bangor University? Thank you very much for coming along. Do you wish to declare any interests at this stage?

Yes. I'd just like to say that I'm a candidate for Plaid Cymru in Llanelli, but I'm here in my capacity as director of Cynnal Cymru. 

Thank you. It's very useful to have that for the record. If you're ready, we can go straight on to questions.

Managing flood risk, particularly as growth is to be directed into areas with existing flood risk, such as Newport, Cardiff and Swansea—do you have any concerns about that? Sorry, Cardiff and Deeside, rather than Swansea.

Do you want to go first?

Yes. Specifically about those particular locations, I hadn't really thought about it, but in terms of generally trying to reduce flood risk, of course, I think there's a lot that we can potentially do within the land use sector to try and reduce those risks. So, management of land in specific ways can really affect the amount of water running off the fields into the rivers. So, there's a lot that can be done with forestry, with alleviating compaction of soils et cetera.

I think, especially in Cardiff, there's an opportunity for more work around SuDS, so having sustainable urban drainage systems in place. We've got successful projects that Welsh Water have done in Llanelli and in Grangetown on SuDS. I think with more urban areas concreting areas around, with surface water problems, with drainage, the Roath park issue that's going on now, I think that's only going to hold for a certain amount of time, with sea levels rising and surface water not draining properly. We have to adopt more SuDS. I think it should be adopted in general land use, car parks, any opportunity for public sector buildings. I think SuDS are key for stopping flooding in urban areas.

For viewers, would you like to tell them what SuDS is?

Sorry, sustainable urban drainage systems that incorporate natural resources. There's an opportunity—

I just wanted you to define it there, because if we have anybody watching this, they may not know what SuDS are. So, thank you very much.

I have to be careful not to give my own opinion here, but we've got a marine plan and we've got a national development framework—do you think they should be more closely aligned?

I think everything should be more closely aligned. I think people and departments are working in silos, and I think more joined-up thinking across the whole board would improve all aspects of planning around climate change. All areas impact on each other. I think we need to join the dots up more.

11:05

I'd just add that I think the framework seems like a really, really great idea, but I think it also needs to make sure it incorporates not just carbon. I know that carbon is the absolute must at the moment, but there are other pressures facing land users. There's the clean air strategy, trying to reduce ammonia emissions by the mid 2020s. The whole territory—no, let's not call it NVZ—the water measures for reducing nitrate leaching into watercourses. You've got to make sure that all of—

Sorry?

Exactly—nitrate vulnerable zones. All these things need to come together to look where we can get the win-wins from any potential mitigation strategy, specifically, for example, for greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage. We've got to make sure that we get the win-wins and no unintended consequences. So, we really have to bring these together.

Could I just add to that, as well? I think, on that, we need to bring the social aspects in as well, because, just touching on clean air zones and the impact that will have on the more vulnerable in communities, that's what I mean by joining up the conversation. There are solutions out there, but we need to look at how they impact people's lives and what we can do to mitigate the effect on the more vulnerable in society as well.

I just wanted to ask about transport issues—how they're addressed in the draft NDF. We've got several mentions of something called a 'pinch-point programme', which I regard as a road-building programme. Could you just say whether you think that the sustainability, in terms of how we get around, is sufficiently described and framed within the document?

I don't think it addresses any kind of real solution, because we have got opportunities that are on the doorstep of the Welsh Government at the moment, in terms of stopping pinch points and looking at investing in—. There are mobility credits that are being piloted in some cities, and Cardiff should be one of those cities, where you're looking at taking people out of cars, not just into electric vehicles, but putting more car clubs and shared-mobility solutions, and changing the old scrappage scheme into a credit card system where you can only redeem the money against public transport and active travel and shared mobility. That will encourage people and the more deprived communities to adopt less of their own car use and move towards a shared-mobility system, and then that will build up the industry on the back of it. I think there are proactive things we could be doing now to stop getting into the pinch points. I think the whole M4 relief road and the conversation around what do we do—. We can stop it now. There are solutions out there now that other cities are looking at, and Wales is not looking at those active solutions at the moment.

Okay. So, basically, that needs quite a lot of strengthening in the document.

I can't really add much more to the expertise that's been already stated, sorry.

Okay. I think the other aspect of this is the way in which the ambition is to ensure that we only get developments, whether it's of new jobs or new housing, around transport hubs, so that, unless they're connected to transport hubs, then we won't be developing there. And I just wondered if that was sufficiently articulated and clear in the document. Is it sufficient, or are there further things that need to be put in on that?

It is difficult, because it's a top-line framework, but, for me, I would like more of an understanding how it would work in rural and urban areas, and how exactly the opportunities that exist are going to be explored further, and how these hubs are going to address—. Is it going to link to housing development, where we stop building so many driveways and put in more car clubs? So, it's not just in the hubs; the hubs have got to link into transport, generally, into house building, into infrastructure development. I think it needs to join up a bit more on that agenda as well.

Okay. Thank you. Moving on from that, and you've mentioned it already, you've talked about car clubs, but, clearly, we want to move away from gas-guzzling, polluting vehicles to low-emissions vehicles, and that will require vehicles to be charged because, otherwise, they won't be able to get back to where they come from. So, could you just tell us how feasible it is to establish a network of rapid charging points across Wales, and what's the timescale?

11:10

Well, I think that—. Sorry.

No, you go ahead. This is not my area.

I think it's feasible. I think what we need to do is look at different ways of—. You know, everyone's talking about the pressure on the grid. I think that's an excuse. If we went to more local generation, went to more renewable energy, we've got enough roofs, we've got enough opportunities to generate renewable energy all over Wales, and then use that in the grid so the grid system isn't being pressured by just one-way use—. It's been put in and taken out of, and used in a different way than it was designed to be used, so you don't need to strengthen the whole grid. We can work more locally. That way, we can charge more locally and, obviously, we have to move towards superfast charging for rural areas, especially in Wales, and then they are usually the ones who have more access to green spaces and opportunities for renewable energy in those areas as well.

We've got a co-operative model developing in Wales to put charging infrastructure in communities around Wales, where that money, the profits, go back into the communities. So, it's linking in with renewables, communities and society, and the electric vehicle agenda. So, I think it is realistic that we can adopt this. I'm just really disappointed at how slow it's been so far, because there was £2 million announced for EV charging infrastructure two years ago, and I don't know if it's been spent yet. And I know of community groups that are bidding for that, and it's just so slow. It's stopping the movement to—. I want an electric car. I'm carless because I'm waiting for the infrastructure to be there for that happen, and loads of people I know are waiting for the infrastructure to be there. And the money is there, so I don't understand what's stopping us.

Okay. So, there's a need to identify what is the barrier to such developments at the moment. I mean, the obvious places to do it would be along the A470, but there's absolutely no evidence that anybody's putting in any infrastructure using local renewable energy.

Exactly. Nobody's joining the dots on it. People are having conversations. I know that Carmarthenshire Energy and Trydanu are having conversations, and they're looking into it, but it needs funding. There's funding there; we just need to take risks, I think, and start doing some of these projects a bit more and getting some infrastructure in place, and then more people will adopt the cars and then more infrastructure will go in. I think we just need to start spending the money now.

Okay. The money's there, but it's not being spent because the projects haven't come forward, presumably.

Well, there are applications in that I know of. I don't know where they are in the process, but I don't understand what's holding them back. I know that people have put in applications for—

Okay. So, we would need to probe with the Government as to why this isn't happening. Okay, thank you for explaining that.

If I talk about Holyhead and Cardiff Airport, as there are plans in here to expand those, what do you think the carbon effect of doing that is, and how can those problems be mitigated?

Do you want to—?

This is a personal opinion. I would suggest that the carbon impact will be large and the question is whether we can find the renewable fuels for those planes, and if it's Holyhead, we're talking about ferries. So, I just think it's something that has to be thought about now. We might be able to offset that carbon maybe in another way through planting, et cetera, but you don't want to hear that.

Don't get me on to tree planting—I'll bore the committee and you for the next 20 minutes. So, I'll show restraint. But, yes, thank you.

I think, with the carbon emissions from flying, all Governments have to be braver in tackling climate change and making very brave decisions around stopping supporting one of the most damaging areas to the environment.

I think we have got to support our local industries in Wales and look at alternatives for the airport, look at alternative fuels—you know, carbon offsetting and things like that—but it's not going to touch the emissions that we create from flying. So, I think the Government does need to be quite brave in tackling these issues now.

Thank you. Llyr—. Oh, sorry, Joyce. I didn't see you there.

11:15

So, we've got to be brave and, at the same time, all the businesses tell us that we need an international airport so that we can do business. We have to mention Brexit at the moment because it is there and it will have implications on trade deals. So, what I'm interested in, while I'm not disagreeing with what you're saying—. Being brave is fine, but it doesn't tell us anything. You did mention alternative fuels. I noticed that you did that. But, exactly what does being brave mean?

I think that international trade is key to us, going forward. I think there are other ways to do that than flying. I used to work with China and Russia a lot. I used to work in China for the Welsh Government and for universities. A lot of that work can be done remotely these days. I think that we don't need to fly everywhere. The personal relationships are key, but I think that travel is sometimes used as a traditional way of doing business. We need to be braver with the decisions that we make around how we do business.

I think it's changing our whole culture, when I say 'be brave'. I mean not just sending people around the world to do business in aeroplanes. We have got different mediums of communicating now, and when we need to do business that way, then, yes, we shouldn't have doors closed, but it shouldn't be the standard way of thinking about doing business or commuting. I think we need to be braver with decisions that we make for other teams, and not keep sending them abroad.

It's all very well, as Joyce said, being brave, but what are the practical implications of this? Governments don't decide whether people travel abroad to conduct meetings in business. That's individuals who are involved in trade and commerce themselves. Governments, of course, can make it more difficult for them or more expensive for them to travel to meetings and so on. So, are you advocating any practical methods of bringing about the kind of change that you want to see?

Yes. I think that the Government can support better infrastructure in rural areas, so that you don't need to travel so much. In west Wales, it is difficult to get superfast broadband and things like that. There are practical solutions that you can put in place. A lot of the work that I did when I was a consultant for the Welsh Government was travelling, and I was encouraged to do the building of relationships for the Government face to face. We all need to say where we can—. With the right infrastructure and telecommunications in Wales, we can form those relationships remotely. That kind of practical solution.

I guess it's a question of whether you can create a brand and competitive advantage in a commercial context in terms of having this more environmental approach to business. That's a bit of a gamble, I guess, but I think that, as part of the sustainable brand values for Wales, which I guess you're aware of—the brand value for Wales programme, which at the moment is dedicated to food and drink—. But, you know, it's all about trying to get competitive, innovative industry within the global marketplace. There's no reason why that could not be extended to the more corporate responsibility for the environmental sustainability of business.

But the reality is that people want to be mobile, don't they? That has been a massive change in my lifetime. We used to get on the train to go to Weston for our summer holiday, staying in a B&B, in the 1950s. Today, people fly to Spain, Greece and beyond. So, if you want to make any dramatic difference to the carbon footprint in relation to travel and mobility, then you're going to have to persuade the masses to behave in a rather different way. 

Or pay for it.

Or pay for it.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Dwi jest eisiau gofyn ynglŷn â pholisi 8 yn yr NDF, ynglŷn â fframwaith strategol ar gyfer gwella bioamrywiaeth a sicrhau bod ecosystemau yn wydn—yn resilient. Hynny yw, mae yna ofyniad i adnabod rhwydweithio ecolegol er mwyn cael eu gwarchod, a bod yn rhaid gwneud hynny yn yr LDPs a'r SDPs. Dwi jest eisiau gofyn eich barn chi ynglŷn â hynny, ac a ydy hynny, yn ei hunan, yn ddigonol.

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask about policy 8 in the NDF, with regard to a strategic framework for biodiversity enhancement and ensuring that ecosystems are resilient. There is a requirement to recognise ecological networks to be safeguarded, and that that needs to be done in the LDPs and the SDPs. I just wanted to ask your opinion on that, and whether that, in itself, is sufficient.

I missed the beginning of that, while I put my headset on. I apologise. Could you just repeat the—?

11:20

Jest cyfeirio at bolisi rhif 8 yn y ddogfen, oeddwn i, ynglŷn â fframweithiau strategol ar gyfer gwella bioamrywiaeth a sicrhau bod ecosystemau'n wydn. Ac ydy'r hyn sy'n cael ei gynnig—bod rhwydweithiau ecolegol pwysig yn cael eu hadnabod a'u hamddiffyn, neu'u gwarchod, o fewn cynlluniau datblygu—yn rhywbeth rŷch chi'n ei gefnogi, ac ydy'r math yna o approach yn un addas ac yn ddigonol?

I was just referring to policy number 8 in this document about the strategic framework for biodiversity enhancement and ensuring that ecosystems are resilient; and whether what's being proposed—that ecological networks are identified and safeguarded within development plans—whether that's something that you support and whether that kind of approach is one that's appropriate and sufficient.

It's certainly appropriate. I would suggest that there are other experts who could tell you whether it was absolutely sufficient or not to deliver to the various directives that we should be concerned with. But, yes, certainly joining up contiguous areas of biodiversity with corridors will hopefully enhance the ability to transfer that biodiversity across maybe some places where it would normally not happen. I don't know if we're going to talk about the national forest at any point in this.

We are indeed. Yes, my next question, so, go on, you can kick off now.

Well, okay. The question there is—. The national forest is a really good idea in terms of the aspiration for achieving the amount of woodland planting and the forest planting that's needed. I read in the report that it's obviously not necessarily all going to be one contiguous block; it's probably impossible to do that. So, therefore, having these corridors that might link some of these areas together is important.

But I guess my main comment for the national forest is merely to make sure that the right level of consultation takes place with experts to make sure it's not put in the wrong place—for example, on the peats. It seems obvious that we wouldn't do that, but we've done it in the past and we've wrecked the—. We've really lost a huge amount of carbon as a result of that. But equally, if we think about the amount of water—thinking ahead in terms of climate change adaptation, climate change effects—that we're not going to end up drawing a lot of water out of the soil system for these trees that would otherwise be needed for other purposes. So, it's thinking about that.

And then, of course, the right species in the right place is also important. Do we want a mixed broadleaf woodland, or is it better to have Sitka spruce or something like that, which actually is a crop, which means you can crop it every 10, 15, 20 years, whatever it might be, use that timber in a sustainable way that then also means that that is locked up and then you have another crop growing, whereas with a more—? I haven't got the right answers, but I'm just saying we need to be aware that biodiversity means different things to different people. One key species is a big tick on one person's—. Breeding chough, that's one massive tick in terms of one person's biodiversity goals, but might not necessarily be someone else's.

So, where is that articulated then? Because, clearly, you wouldn't put all of that in the NDF.

No. That has got to be down the next level. I think the NDF, as I understand it, is very much this broad umbrella, but so long as the communication is there and the right experts are brought in to ensure that—. I'm always aware of these potential unintended consequences. So, it's just being aware that we might be setting something up with all the right reasons for one particular individual goal and miss something else that's really important down the line.

We do have a woodland strategy, but we've also—. You say taking water out. I live in Swansea. We've had substantial flooding over the last few days, and some of those people would be really pleased if some means were there to take the run-off water out rather than it going through their houses.

Yes. So, it is something that we're looking at at the moment to try and join the dots on biodiversity with the Government, Natural Resources Wales, and the private sector, and looking at where Welsh Water would ideally like to plant more trees, where you've got a lot of pollution coming in from farms into riverways, which saves treatment works and saves costs to customers at the end of it. That, again, would help if they were planted in the right areas. As you were saying, the right kind of trees in the right areas, whether they absorb a lot of water to stop flooding or whether they take pollution in to stop it going into treatment works.

And one thing, whether it's at the top level of the framework or not, I think a conversation with the private sector—utilities in particular—is really important around this, because everyone now is producing business plans for Ofwat, Ofgem, in terms of the next five years' worth of planning around infrastructure and utilities, and biodiversity is key in everybody's business plan. You need to join the dots—the Government needs to join the dots—with the utilities because they've got money and focus to spend in this area. People shouldn't be doing it not just in terms of corridors about these things happening, but in terms of silos of organisations; I think it needs to be worked across all sectors of Wales as well.

11:25

Because there are so many layers that need to be put on top of each other there, aren't there, really? You've got NRW, you mention the area statements and all the work that's happening there, you've got the LDPs themselves, the SDPs as well. It's a huge logistical challenge, and you need a definitive—if I understand this correctly—you will require lines on maps in terms of planning, won't you?

Yes. It is complicated. I think you've quite rightly outlined it's very complicated. Hydrology, water movement, is very complicated, and whilst you might need a certain amount of water through the growing season for your crops, the strategic planting of woodland and forests to reduce run-off into watercourses, you know, that place, the right place, is really critical for these. And it might be that your national forest, which is there to help lock up carbon, has a different function than the type of tree, woodland planting that you're talking about.

We have to plan for the worst case scenario of climate change now. Welsh Water have got different maps for different areas of flooding. You have to plan for the worst case scenario when you're looking at this.

I haven't got an issue with this approach, but just to be devil's advocate: it runs somewhat against the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, doesn't it? Because if you designate particular areas that are to be safeguarded, then that isn't about balancing the economic, social and environmental, you are saying that these areas are untouchable. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but some people might suggest that, actually, it's running contrary to the narrative that we get on other things from Welsh Government.

No, I'm not sure—

I don't think that they should safeguard it and you don't do anything with it; you do what's right for that area, which is in its best interests, which is fundamentally doing what the well-being of future generations Act says. So, it's working with communities and different areas and doing what's right for each community. So it might be tree planting or it might be wetting bogs, but it's whatever is right in the right place. So, I think it's embedding the well-being of future generations Act in a practical way.

But what is right in the right place, again, is a subjective process that needs to come to a sort of—

Well, there are certain parts of the landscape that you would say are best suited for a specific, let's call it an ecosystem service. You wouldn't put your forest on your grade 1, 2, agricultural land. You wouldn't put your forest onto the peat bogs where your carbon sequestration is. But I think the main thing is—and you mentioned it earlier, Mari—that it's bringing along and co-designing this with the communities, with the stakeholders who have the overall responsibility of managing it and the consequences of living with those decisions. So, it's a land-use prioritisation that has to be put in place now if we're going to try and look forwards 50, 100 years plus, because carbon sequestration takes so long and carbon protection needs to be done immediately. And biodiversity takes a long time to bring anything new in, so you've got to think long term. I don't think we can escape that at all.

I agree with the co-design; we need to bring people along with us on that. But I'd sort of push back and say that LDPs don't have the best track record in terms of taking communities with them. So, you'd add to that, I suppose, that we need a different approach to designing these.

That's why, I think, the Act was brought in, because we haven't been doing it right. So, I think we need to change the way we work on everything now. We need to work together on these agendas. We need to bring the experts and the people and the farmers and whoever's in those areas involved in the decisions, because then they only react against it and then nothing happens if people aren't all brought together. The Act, for me, is about changing the way we work.