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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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Politics

Covid-19 restriction relaxations in Wales brought forward

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will be accelerating elements of its programme to relax Covid-19 restrictions as cases of new infections continue to fall across Wales, the First Minister today announced.

People will be able to form an extended household, visit the gym or take part in organised outdoor activities a week earlier than planned, as the public health situation – and vaccination rates – continue to improve.

The First Minister last week set out a detailed timetable for moving Wales firmly into alert level three. But some of these measures will now be introduced sooner than planned as cases have fallen markedly from 37 cases per 100,000 people to fewer than 21 per 100,000 this week.

The pressure on hospitals also continues to ease. Confirmed cases in hospital beds continue to reduce, and now stands at 89. This is 26% lower than last Thursday and is the lowest position since 22 September 2020.

The planned opening date for organised outdoor activities and outdoor wedding receptions will be moved forward to Monday 26 April from 3 May.

And, from Monday 3 May, a week earlier than previously signalled, gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities will be able to reopen for individual or one-to-one training. Extended households will also be allowed again, enabling two households to meet and have contact indoors.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford said:

“The public health situation in Wales continues to improve thanks to everything you are doing to help us control this awful virus. Cases of the virus are falling and our incredible vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength.

“Last week, we set out our programme to further re-open the economy and relax the restrictions we have lived with for so long, as part of our careful, step-by-step approach to keeping everyone safe. This week, because of the improvements we continue to see, we can bring forward some of our plans.

“This is only possible because of the efforts everyone is making to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

From Monday 12 April, the following relaxations will go ahead:

  • The full return of children to schools for face-to-face education, all post-16 learners will return to further education and training centres, and university campus’ will be able to open for blended face-to-face/online learning for all students;
  • All remaining shops will reopen, completing the phased reopening of non-essential retail;
  • All remaining close contact services will open, including mobile services;
  • Travel restrictions on traveling into and out of Wales will be lifted. However, restrictions on travel to countries outside the Common Travel Area without a reasonable excuse, remain in place. The Common Travel Area means the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland;
  • Wedding ‘show-arounds’ by appointment are allowed;
  • Restrictions on political canvassing are removed, subject to canvassers doing so safely.
  • Further easements to restrictions in the coming weeks will be subject to the public health situation remaining favourable. These will be confirmed at the next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations on 22 April.

On Monday 26 April:

  • Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks, would be allowed to reopen;
  • Outdoor hospitality can resume, including at cafes, pubs and restaurants. Indoor hospitality will remain closed except for takeaways;
  • Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can again take place (previously Monday 3 May);
  • Weddings receptions can take place outdoors for up to 30 people (previously Monday 3 May).

On Monday 3 May (previously Monday 10 May):

  • Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. This will include individual or one-to-one training but not exercise classes;
    Extended household will again allow two households to meet and have contact indoors.
  • As set out in the revised Coronavirus Control Plan, a small number of outdoor pilot events of between 200 and 1,000 people are also being planned.
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Ceredigion MS and MP call on Welsh Government to support agricultural shows

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ELIN JONES MS and Ben Lake MP have called on the Welsh Government to provide financial support to all agricultural shows to see them through to 2022 

A number of shows up and down the county were forced to cancel last year, starving farming communities of annual chances to meet acquaintances, denying traders a vital market and rural charities of fundraising activities and ultimately causing significant losses to the rural economy. 

About seven million people attend agricultural and county shows across the UK every year, and numbers were growing before the pandemic, according to the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations (ASAO), the voice of the agricultural show industry. 

Ben Lake MP calls on Welsh Government to support agricultural shows

In 2019, agricultural shows across the UK generated £128.6m of income, the ASAO figures show. But the mass cancellation of physical shows last year led to a £36.5m loss, while the impact on the wider economy was an estimated loss of £810m. 

Some agriculture show organisers in Ceredigion have already announced cancellations of their 2021 events. These include: Aberystwyth County Show, Lampeter Stallion Show, Barley Saturday, and Llanilar Show. 

With the possibility of further show cancellations this year, Elin Jones MS and Ben Lake MP have called on the Welsh Government to provide financial support to all agricultural shows to see them through to 2022.  

Elin Jones MS said: “For many farming families in Ceredigion, the agricultural show season is the highlight of the year. Every agricultural show plays an important part in promoting our nation’s rural sector, in addition to the rich array of traditions and history associated with rural Wales. 

“Whilst virtual agricultural shows went some way to filling the void left by the cancellations in 2020, nothing replaces the buzz of live outdoor shows.  They give opportunities for communities to come together and provide a vital hub for the farming and rural community to meet, socialise and conduct business.” 

Ben Lake MP added: “Agricultural shows and societies are a crucial feature of the annual calendar for most rural communities, showcasing the heritage of key elements of farming and rural life in Ceredigion. 

“With the possibility of further show cancellations in 2021, we believe it is timely for the Welsh Government to consider providing a one-off grant payment to all agricultural shows to ensure that they are able to see this pandemic through.” 

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16 and 17 year old’s urged to register to vote in this year’s Senedd Elections

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ELIN JONES, Ceredigion’s Member of the Senedd, has urged everyone who will be 16 years old by or on the 6th of May – Senedd Election Day – to register to vote. This is the first time 16 and 17 years olds will be able to vote in a national election in Wales.

Speaking directly to young people in Ceredigion, Elin said: “One of my proudest achievements from the last Senedd has been helping to pass the law that has extended the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

“This is the biggest change in voting rights in Wales for many, many years.

“So many aspects of young people’s lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic, so it’s completely right that you have the democratic right to express your opinions on how things have been run.

“We now have a fixed date for the election, providing the Covid situation doesn’t change. So if you will be 16 years old or older by the 6th of May, then make sure you register to vote. Your voice counts, and I hope that you will use it.”

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