Housing Q&A

1.     What is the council doing about the housing crisis?

Well, the first thing to note is that we’re building new council homes ourselves, and we are doing it in large numbers.

Our council housing build programme will deliver around 2,500 new council homes over the next 8 years. More than 600 of them have been built so far, and over 95% of the sites within that building programme are brownfield sites.

This is an important step for us – it’s the biggest council house building programme in Wales and has a budget of around £450 million.

By building ourselves, on land we already own, we can set our own standards, focusing on quickly moving towards a net zero carbon standard.

That’s important for two reasons: firstly it ensures we reduce carbon emissions from our programme, secondly, it also helps tackle fuel poverty and reduces bills for our future tenants.

We can also make sure that we build the right homes in the right areas – tackling housing need and delivering the more specialist homes that we need, but that are not delivered in large numbers through more traditional routes – things like flexible homes for older people to help support independent living, larger family homes to help tackle overcrowding, more adapted houses for disabled people and supported housing schemes.

But when private housebuilders submit planning applications for new developments we also negotiate for a percentage of new affordable homes on each scheme. Ensuring that further affordable homes are delivered across the city and that we meet the targets for affordable housing set out in our current Local Development Plan. Where developments cannot accommodate the affordable homes on the site, within a block of flats for example, we would seek a financial contribution from the developer to put towards new affordable homes.

On top of that, we also support the development programmes of Housing Associations to ensure that they can deliver new affordable homes in volume.

Then there are the houses being built by private developers around Cardiff, particularly on the strategic sites set out in our current Local Development Plan – build rates on these sites are now high, with a mix of affordable housing, flats and larger family homes. The latest figures from our LDP monitoring report show that 3,650 homes were completed on these sites from 2018/19 to 2020/21 and that as of April this year 2,196 homes were under construction. Without this increased supply the cost of housing could potentially climb even higher.


2.     What does affordable housing actually mean? Affordable for who?

When we talk about affordable housing, what we are talking about is properties where there are mechanisms in place to ensure that it is accessible to those who cannot afford market housing (private housing for sale or rent, where the price is set on the open market), on the first occupation and subsequently.

That could mean homes that are available for social rent from the council or a housing association, or it could be what are known as ‘intermediate rents’ - where the rent is above that of social rent but below market rent. Some Housing Associations deliver intermediate rented properties.

We also include affordable homes to buy for first time buyers within the definition of affordable housing. These homes are available to first time buyers who are registered on our ‘Assisted Home Ownership’ scheme and would otherwise be unable to afford a new home at market value. New homes under this scheme are made available at 70-80% of the market value, with the council retaining the 30% or 20% equity share. When a property bought under the scheme is sold, we find a buyer from our list of applicants and another person gets an affordable home.

So, a council home, available for social rent direct from the council is ‘affordable.’ The rents are much lower than rents in the private rented sector, and it’s secure because if a tenant moves out, it remains accessible to other people needing a home - a new council tenant moves in.

These council homes, available to rent, make up the majority of what we are building ourselves. As we said, our programme will deliver around 2,500 new council homes for social rent.


3.     But you’re selling some of the homes you build privately. How does that help fix the housing crisis? Surely they’re just bought up by landlords who then rent them out at high rents?

Our current aim is to build 2,500 new council homes. On the Council’s own development sites we are delivering mixed tenure schemes to ensure a sustainable community is created – take our Gasworks site in Grangetown for example, this site will deliver around 500 new homes in total. At least 50% will be council homes (available for social rent) and all properties will be tenure neutral so there’s no visible difference between a privately-owned home and one that is council-owned.

Then there’s our award-winning Cardiff Living Partnership – delivering mixed tenure, tenure neutral homes on the majority of our sites has been really successful in ensuring that new homes for sale are prioritised, and are affordable, for people within the local community who may want to buy a new home.

For example on the Captains Walk and Captains View development in Llanrumney over 85% of the new homes for sale were sold to residents of the local area. A 2 bed home here sold for £155,000 typically, and a 3 bed home for £180,000 - ensuring that they were affordable for the local market.

But what is important to note is that we want all the homes we build to meet extremely high standards, on size, quality, and sustainability – ensuring our entire build programme moves towards net zero carbon.

So, our programme will deliver 2,500 new council homes but it will also deliver a further 1,400 homes for sale. Although these additional properties wouldn’t fulfil the criteria of being ‘affordable’ the profit they generate is then reinvested in building more council homes.

Plus, it’s important to remember that there is a lack of housing supply in Cardiff. Yes, Cardiff needs more affordable homes, but it also just needs more homes.


4.     Okay, so Cardiff needs more housing. But does it have to be on greenfield sites? Can’t we just build on brownfield sites?

Well, there are a few important points to make in answer to this – the first being that the overwhelming majority of homes the Council is directly building are being built on brownfield sites - 95% of our sites in fact.

The second being that the Council actually proposed and consulted on a ‘brownfield-only’ Local Development Plan back in 2009. This proposal was withdrawn in 2010 after the Welsh Government and the Inspector appointed to examine the plan raised concerns about the lack of range and choice of land available for housing.

So, houses are currently being built by private developers on a number of strategic greenfield sites identified under the current Local Development Plan. Greenfield development does have some advantages - the main one being that because the land is cheaper, more affordable homes can be built – more than 1,000 of them have been built under the current LDP. But it’s also worth noting that whilst building on greenfield sites may sound worse for biodiversity, in reality this is not necessarily the case. Much farmland, for example, is often not great for biodiversity - whereas some brownfield sites can be rich with diverse wildlife.

We’re in the process of replacing the current Plan. There’s a long way to go before the new plan is finalised, but the vision and objectives for the replacement plan state that it will look to ensure “development is promoted in the most sustainable locations and land is efficiently used with a ‘brownfield-first’ priority.”


5.     But none of those homes that private developers are building are affordable. How do new luxury homes address the issue of a lack of affordable housing?

Well that’s not strictly true. In fact, over the last three years 1,267 affordable homes have been built under the current Local Development Plan, on privately owned land. The council negotiates for these homes through the planning process. By way of example, the Plas Dŵr Development in west Cardiff has planning permission for up to 6,000 homes - 30% of these homes are required to be affordable.

But that said, it is true that not all homes being built by developers are affordable for everyone. Developers build what they believe they can sell for the biggest profit – they’re driven by the market. If there wasn’t demand for those houses, they wouldn’t build them.

However, as a general rule, prices go up when demand outstrips supply, and that’s the position we’re currently in in Cardiff. More supply, of the right type of homes, is needed.


6.     But surely you need to make developers build more affordable homes? Can’t you take a stronger position with them when you’re negotiating Section 106 contributions?

With more than £100,000,000 of Section 106 contributions negotiated since 2016/17 we do pretty well on that front already, with money agreed to pay for things like schools, roads, surgeries and playing fields, as well as affordable housing.

Currently planning policy requires 30% affordable homes to be delivered on greenfield sites and 20% on brownfield sites.

Private developers can only provide what they can afford, and the cost of land and the cost of materials have risen significantly in recent years.

In such cases, we require developers to provide evidence that their scheme wouldn’t be able to go ahead if they made the financial contribution we initially asked for.

It’s important to remember that we don’t just take developers word for it – in fact any evidence they provide is independently verified. Furthermore, if the development cannot accommodate essential infrastructure, the applications would be rejected, whether they were viable or not.

We talked about this in more detail in a Q&A we did on planning earlier this year. You can read it here:


7.     Right, well how does your Cardiff Living Partnership with private developer Wates work then? When they privately sell houses they build as part of the partnership, does that contribute to the cost of the development?

In a way, yes. One of the key things about the Cardiff Living partnership is that we can develop small sites, sites that wouldn’t normally be economically viable for a developer on their own as the profit margins would be too small. These sites are cross subsidised by the larger more attractive sites. And as we have already said we recognise that the larger sites we deliver should be mixed tenure.

But the profit generated by the homes for sale through Cardiff Living is shared between Wates and the Council, which helps to subside the building of new council homes. We have also set very high standards for all the houses delivered through the partnership, so it helps improve the quality of homes for sale as well. They all have to meet much higher energy efficiency standards and we have piloted some very innovative build methods such as PassivHaus, Modular and low-carbon – reducing the carbon impact of our developments and reducing fuel bills for new residents. 

By working together, our partners know that a certain percentage of the properties (which varies from site to site) must be delivered as council homes. That removes some of the risk for them and ensures we get the much-needed affordable homes delivered fast, at good value for money.


8.     Okay well what about private sector rents? Can’t they be capped

The short answer is, not by the council.

Rent capping was ended in 1988 with the introduction of Assured Shorthold Tenancies. These new tenancy agreements were introduced to try to give more flexibility to the rental market.

The reintroduction of rent-capping would require Welsh Government legislation.


9.     Can’t you at least bring some of the empty and derelict properties around Cardiff back into use? Do you even know how many there are?

Right now there are 1355 privately-owned homes in Cardiff which have been empty for more than 6 months.

And we are trying to bring them back into use – in fact, since 2018/19 we’ve done just that with 252 homes, using a combination of advice, assistance and enforcement action.

On occasions when that approach is unsuccessful, and if it is deemed to be in the public interest, there are a number of further options available to us – including obtaining ownership of the property using a Compulsory Purchase Order. This is something we have done recently, however the process is complex and costly, and can take around three years from start to finish.

In 2019 we introduced a council tax premium for empty homes to encourage property owners to bring their properties back into use. This premium, which means that council tax is charged at 150% when a property has been unoccupied for a year, is being used to fund the recruitment of additional staff to work on these complex cases. Further funding is also being sought from Welsh Government to underwrite the financial risks of taking these cases forward.


10.  It’s good quality homes people need as well. You need to stop building all this student accommodation – it just ends up sitting empty and then being granted permission for a change of use, as low-quality housing.

We agree. Good quality homes are exactly what people need, and that’s what the council is building.

One thing we haven’t built is any student accommodation blocks – while we don’t think these blocks are necessarily a bad thing (it’s more sustainable - people living in the city centre means more journeys can be made on foot or by  bike, it generates more business for the local economy, and the buildings themselves are generally safe, efficient, and good quality – which is what most students want these days) - these projects are proposed by private developers on land that they own. They then apply to the council for planning permission to build.

Decisions on planning permission have to be taken in line with planning laws. We cannot simply turn an application down because people don’t like it. And as we said earlier, developers are driven by the market, if they didn’t think there was a market for student accommodation, they would not build it.

It is also untrue to say that these blocks are built and then converted into low-cost housing.  A number of temporary change-of-use applications were granted during the Covid-19 pandemic as student numbers in the city were significantly reduced.  The permission for these temporary changes expired in September 2021 and these premises have now reverted to their established use as purpose-built student accommodation.

If any permanent changes of use were proposed for these buildings, we would require a full planning application to be submitted, as there are no permitted changes of use from Purpose Built Student Accommodation under Planning Law.

If you’re interested in learning more about how planning works, this Q&A may prove helpful:


11.  Well, another thing you’re not building is any infrastructure to serve all these new homes. Where are the schools, the GP surgeries, the bus routes etc?

Infrastructure is being introduced to serve the new developments around the city. These requirements are set out in the Local Development Plan, but it is built in phases – until houses are completed and occupied, some facilities are not required. You wouldn’t, for example, build a whole school for just a handful of children – certain population thresholds need to be met.

The delivery of this infrastructure is often captured in legal agreements between the Council and the developer known as Section 106 Agreements.  These are legally binding, and as we said earlier – we’ve negotiated more than £100,000,000 of Section 106 contributions since 2016/17.


12.  What about climate change? How green are these new houses?

We can’t really speak for the new homes being built by private developers – some will be more environmentally friendly than others – as a minimum, all will have to comply with the up-to-date Building Regulations set by Welsh Government and will generally be far more efficient than existing homes in Cardiff.

But we’re working on making the new council homes as green as we possibly can – and we’re working on getting as close to zero carbon as we can.

We have recently adopted a Cardiff design standard which sets out the minimum requirements our new council homes must meet. This ensures that we deliver new homes that have a very efficient building fabric, reducing heat loss (and the demand for heating) compared to a house built to standard building regulations – in fact, the design standard achieves at least an 85% improvement against current building regulations.

Also, all of our new homes moving forward must provide EV charging points and maximise on site renewable sources such as solar PV with battery storage, and ground or air source heat pumps instead of gas boilers.

For example, the homes being built through Cardiff Living on the site of the former Eastern High school in Rumney will feature improved building fabric, photo voltaic panels, battery storage, smart water cylinders, ground source heat pumps, and electric vehicle charging points – all of which adds up to a 95% improvement on building regulations and a monthly energy bill that should be 60% lower than the UK average and 35% lower than the average new build.

We also prioritise new green infrastructure and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) in order to manage storm water run-off to limit the impact our schemes will have on the existing drainage infrastructure, reduce localised flooding potential and provide quality, attractive green spaces for residents.


13.  And what about disabled people? What percentage of these homes are going to be suitable for wheelchair users?

All of our new council homes are built to lifetime homes standards and are able to be easily adapted to accommodate a wheelchair user or someone who struggles with mobility.

From handover, our homes include a ground floor accessible shower, level access to the front and rear doors and included a knock-out panel in the ceiling of the lounge to install a through-floor lift.

We are also building a large number of flexible and adaptable specialist properties specifically for supported accommodation, older people or Children’s Services.