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Conservatives unveil housing pledges

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Whole-market approach to housing needed: Mark Isherwood AM

Whole-market approach to housing needed: Mark Isherwood AM

THE WELSH Conservative Party has announced a ‘radical’ new housing programme, which it is claimed could lead to 70,000 new properties being built in Wales over the next five years.

A party spokesperson described the plans as: “a whole-market approach which recognises the need for 70,000 new properties in Wales over an Assembly term, and the scrapping of stamp duty for first-time buyers on all properties up to the value of £250,000.”

The party says it will work with house builders, social landlords, Local Councils and the private rented sector to deliver the plan.

Shadow Housing Minister Mark Isherwood AM has said the Welsh Labour Government has ‘consistently failed to meet the challenges’ posed within the housing sector, and says all other political parties in Wales “have shown no foresight, ambition or desire” to do things differently.

As part of their commitments to tackle a ‘crisis in housing’, Welsh Conservatives unveiled an ambitious five-point plan to fuel responsible housing development in the right places, offer comprehensive support to firsttime buyers and cut housing waiting lists.

The plan includes:

  • Launching an ambitious programme of home-building; stimulating a wholemarket approach, recognising the need for 70,000 new properties for rent, lowcost home ownership and open market purchase over an Assembly term
  • Scrapping Stamp Duty for first time buyers on all properties up to the value of £250,000, and developing low-cost home-ownership schemes, including a ‘Starter Home Cymru’ initiative to deliver below market value properties for first time buyers Releasing capital to build new social housing; protecting the ‘Right to Buy’ for tenants wanting to buy their council home; restoring the full discount and reinvesting proceeds into new social housing – increasing the number of people homed; whilst offering Housing Associations the choice to provide ‘Right to Buy’ to tenants where this would help delivery of individual housing schemes
  • Reforming planning guidance to encourage building on brownfield and publicly-owned land, supporting a land for housing scheme, and developing a national register of contaminated land sites; whilst delivering a right to bid, allowing communities to bring forward community-led housing developments
  • Working with social housing landlords, protecting relevant funding and targeting need; linking new and renovated housing supply to sustainable community regeneration and public health needs
  • The plan’s publication comes as a new report is published outlining the extent of challenges faced by first-time buyers in Wales. Estate agents Hamptons found a single first-time buyer faces a nine-year wait to build up a deposit – emphasising the need for support with obstacles to house purchase, such as potentially prohibitive stamp duty costs.

It also follows the release of figures which show Wales is the only UK nation where housing developments fell from 2014 to 2015, emphasising the need to secure real change in Wales. Figures released by the National House Building Council in February showed that the UK averaged a 7% increase, but the figures in Wales fell by 2% – underlining Labour’s failure to meet the housing challenge.

Mr Isherwood AM said: “Housing is crucial to health, wellbeing and regeneration.

“Sadly, Wales faces a crisis in housing supply, affordability and support, which other political parties in Wales have shown no foresight, ambition or desire to deal with. Whilst progress has been made in other parts of the UK, Wales risks falling further behind.

“To secure real change in housing, the next Welsh Government must inspire a whole-market approach to developments, which recognises that Wales needs to be developing 70,000 new properties during an Assembly term – and to do so responsibly, and in the right places.

“People also need comprehensive support to get onto the housing ladder – and the scrapping of stamp duty for first-time buyers, as part of plans to make Wales the UK’s low-tax capital, would remove a major barrier to home ownership for many people.

“Labour, in Wales, has consistently failed to meet the challenges facing the housing sector and those in housing need.

“It is also vital new properties are built in the right places. From involving local communities in the planning process, to reforming guidance to encourage building on brownfield and publicly-owned land, Welsh Conservatives will responsibly meet the challenges facing the housing sector in Wales.”

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Ben Lake MP “disappointed” after Agriculture Bill amendment on the standard of food and agricultural imports is rejected by House of Commons

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The UK’s new Agriculture Bill was put before MPs on Wednesday (13 May) for the final time as it reached the Report Stage and Third Reading.

Alongside farming unions and campaign groups, Ben Lake MP has lobbied for the Bill to include a number of important amendments. One of the amendments sought to introduce a legal requirement that agricultural or food products imported into the UK under future trade agreements would need to be produced or processed according to equivalent animal health, welfare and environmental standards as those required of UK prodcuers.

This amendment, in the form of New Clause 2, and which was tabled by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish MP, was rejected by the Commons. All Plaid Cymru MPs supported the amendment and Ben Lake MP said he was “disappointed” that the house did not vote in favour of an amendment to prevent the importation of products produced to lower animal health and environmental standards, and which in turn would have supported the high standards of Welsh produce.

Ben Lake MP said:

“Without this amendment there remains no legal requirement for future UK trade agreements to ensure that any agricultural or food imports are produced to the same standards as those required of domestic producers.

“Farmers in Wales strive to produce quality food in a sustainable manner, but the failure to include this amendment to the Agriculture Bill risks undermining these efforts by keeping the door open to imports produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

“I have always argued that in order to protect our own high standards it is crucial that a level playing-field is maintained in relation to imports, and that farmers in Wales are not put at a disadvantage by having to compete with imports that are produced to lower standards. I sincerely hope that this amendment will be adopted by the House of Lords, so that the House of Commons has another opportunity to support it.”

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£1 billion deal for ‘Shared Rural Network’ to improve mobile coverage goes ahead

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Ceredigion MP, Ben Lake says he is delighted that a scheme to extend mobile coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas making poor mobile phone coverage a thing of the past has been given the green light, thanks to a major new deal between the Government and UK mobile network operators.

The ‘Shared Rural Network’ will mean that high quality 4G coverage will be available for 95 percent of the UK by 2026 which means consumers will get good 4G signal wherever they live, work or travel. The new plans involves four operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) joining forces to create a new organisation to deliver the ‘Shared Rural Network’. Each will be able to make the maximum use out of existing and new phone masts by being able to host their own equipment on them allowing their customers to access a mobile signal. The scheme will cost more than £1billion made up of £530m from the mobile operators and a £500m investment from the Government.

Ben Lake MP, who was one of 78 cross-party MPs who wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport last year to ask for government support for the scheme, said:

“This is really good news for my constituents. Better mobile connectivity will make flexible working, access to education and leisure opportunities easier. It will boost regional economic growth and begin to close the digital divide that exists across the country. The mobile has become an essential tool for most of us. It will certainly come as a relief to many people living in my constituency who are frustrated by the persistent ‘not spots’ which prevent them from carrying out many tasks which other people take for granted”.

The ’Shared Rural Network’ will eliminate the substantial majority of the country’s partial not-spots with the added benefit of increasing competition for mobile services, especially in rural areas; deliver on the Government’s 95% coverage manifesto commitment to extend coverage across the country; improve road coverage by reaching a further 16,000 kilometres of roads; involve minimum environmental impact and reduce the need for duplicate infrastructure and ensure that the UK has one of, if not the best, mobile coverage in Europe.

The initiative, which is a world first, follows government proposals for an overhaul of planning rules and is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to level up the country with world-class digital infrastructure across the UK to make sure homes and businesses are better connected.

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Elin Jones welcomes speed reduction, but says it should be even lower

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Following a meeting and correspondence with the Welsh Government, Elin Jones AM has welcomed the confirmation of an initial reduction in the speed on the A487 between Bow Street and Aberystwyth.

This stretch of the A487 is particularly dangerous, and there were two fatal accidents there last year.

Ken Skates, the Welsh Government Minister for Economy and Transport, confirmed to Elin Jones via letter that the route between Waun Fawr to 300m beyond Dorglwyd Junction will be reduced to 50mph, with work taking place in the next financial year.

The reduction to 50mph has been initially welcomed by Elin Jones, however she has called for the speed limit to be reduced further to 40mph.

Elin Jones said:

“The need for a review of the safety on the A487 is clear, particularly following the two tragic accidents that took place last year. I was pleased to be able to discuss the issue directly with the Welsh Government Minister in Bow Street recently, and for him to see for himself why a speed reduction was needed.

“I’m also pleased that this has resulted in the safety and speed limit review concluding that a reduction was necessary.

“However, I and many constituents who regularly use this route feel that the speed limit could be reduced further to 40mph, which I will raise again with the Minister.

“I will also continue to call for upgrading safety at the Dorglwyd junction. There are also many areas on the A487 where safety can be improved, either with a speed limit reduction, or by providing cycle lanes and footpaths to remove pedestrians and cyclists from danger. I have called on the Welsh Government to consider all options.”

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