Cardiff’s looming housing crisis

John Osmond says that only an imaginative new city region approach to the capital’s problems has a chance of success

Cardiff is facing a housing crisis over the next ten years. And the only way it can be resolved is if it collaborates much more closely with neighbouring counties and develops a public transport network that  makes commuting and living further away from the city much easier and more environmental friendly than it is today.

These were the main messages I took from an important public lecture delivered by John Punter, Professor of Urban Design at Cardiff University, at the end of last week. He had some startling statistics.  According to the Welsh Government’s Statistical Directorate the number of Welsh households across Wales will increase by 11 per cent between 2008 and 2033.

However, in Cardiff the increase will be 42 per cent. What that means in numbers is that Cardiff is going to have to cater for  59,000 new households by the mid-2020s.

If this is an accurate prediction, it will be a surprise and a major headache for planners at Cardiff County Council. For their Local Development Plan for the city, currently out for consultation, predicts a much lower demand for new households. It predicts that 27,442 new homes will be required between  2006 and 2026.

So according to Cardiff County Council 1,750 new homes will need to be built each year, according to the Welsh Government’s forecasts it will be 2,950.

The problem for Cardiff is worse than that. The city is planning for 79 per cent of the new homes it says it needs to be apartments and 90 per cent of those to be built on Brownfield land. It is not planning to build anywhere near enough the number of three or four bedroom houses that makes up 45 per cent of the demand in the city. The city is estimating that 10 per cent of its new build will be affordable housing, yet that should be at least 16 per cent to meet demand. There are 9,756 people on Cardiff’s housing waiting list today, most of them looking for affordable houses.

As Professor Punter said, very few of these people are ever going to be accommodated, accusing Cardiff’s housing policy of being, “Inequitable, discriminatory, inflexible, and unsustainable.” He added that “a long-term, strategic, Greenfield solution” is required if Cardiff’s housing needs are to be met.

He is not alone. This is what the Welsh Government’s Planning Inspector told the Council in his letter on the Local Development Plan in February this year:

“The evidence does not support the contention that the brownfield only strategy will deliver the number of houses and the amount of employment land required. Nor will it deliver family or affordable homes or the range or type of employment land and premises.”

So what would be a long-term, strategic and Greenfield solution to Cardiff’s housing crisis? It has to be one that entails a significant proportion of people who are aspiring to live in Cardiff over the next 20 years opting instead to live in the Valleys commuter belt outside the city.

Actually they may have no choice, because availability and house prices will prevent them. Table 1 makes this blindingly obvious. It describes the South East Wales Spatial Planning Group’s projections for new households for Cardiff and its surrounding councils to 2021. The table also gives average prices today. By 2021, because of the pressure of demand, they will have grown substantially more.

Table 1: South East Wales Spatial Planning Group’s housing projections for south east Wales to 2021

County Households % growth Today’s average house prices
Blaenau Gwent 4,280 3.9 £90,000
Caerphilly 11,450 10.5 £121,000
Cardiff 26,070 23.9 £195,000
Merthyr Tydfil 4,900 4.5 £97,000
Rhondda Cynon Taf 17,300 15.9 £106,000
Vale of Glamorgan 9,940 9.1 £216,000

There is no way that Cardiff can supply all its housing needs at prices that people will be able to afford. If it were to attempt to meet the real demand on the ground, it would have to invade Greenfield sites across the city, for example around St Fagan’s,  and provide mainly rented three and four bedroom social housing. It has no plans to do this. Instead, it is planning to artificially boost the already over-supplied buy-to-let market in Cardiff Bay and elsewhere.

Professor Punter disagrees with some of this analysis. As he told me:

“I do not support the wholesale export of the housing problem to the Valleys or the wider region. The City has the space and the resources, and the moral obligation, to meet its housing needs. I consider it vital for the city to build a transit based, sustainable urban extension north westwards so that it does meet a major part of the need for family housing, and so that we have the capacity to build affordable housing (for families and smaller households) alongside it. The all-Brownfield solution that the city council promoted in the ‘unsound’ 2009 LDP is no longer viable and many of the high density small apartment projects proposed and given permission have been abandoned. We must have a balanced and dispersed approach to housing and employment space provision.”

What is not in doubt is that, as well as exploring a more balanced approach to housing provision within the City,  a catastrophe awaits us in the capital in the next ten to 15 years unless Cardiff starts collaborating closely with neighbouring Valley authorities very soon. This will mean enhancing public transport links, especially by train.  The example of the new train passenger service between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff that opened in early 2010, and is already highly patronised, will have to be followed. For instance, an urgent priority is to re-open the rail link to Creigiau and Church Village.

What we actually need is a major investment in a new light rail system to link the Valleys and Cardiff. Cardiff has about 80,000 people commuting to work  everyday from its surrounding hinterland. About 90 per cent of these come by car (over 60 per cent of those with the driver only) and only 10 per cent by public transport. This is unsustainable. The population projections mean that unless a radical approach is adopted the daily pressure and congestion on the city’s roads will become intolerable.

What we need is a city region approach, combining new and carbon efficient housing in the surrounding Valley towns linked to efficient and user-friendly new modes of public transport. This is not rocket science. You only have to travel to European cities like Bordeaux or Stuttgart to see what we need in action.

What it will take is political will. At the beginning of his talk Professor Punter quoted the Catalan architect David Mackay as saying, “To realise a plan, the effort is 50 per cent technical and 50 per cent political.” Following next year’s Assembly election our new bunch of politicians in Cardiff Bay will need to get real about the housing and transport crisis facing south-east Wales.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

One thought on “Cardiff’s looming housing crisis

  1. I agree with the city region approach.

    My understanding however is that WAG won’t allow Cardiff to work with other councils to share housing targets/plans?

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