The Communities Creating Homes team were joined this week by Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change, and a large audience, interested to hear more about recent developments in the long-running campaign to improve community access to assets. Cwmpas has pressed Welsh Government for changes to make it easier to unlock land and buildings, with a particular focus on enabling community led housing.
The Minister’s opening presentation was a canter through Welsh Government’s recent response to the Senedd Local Government and Housing Committee inquiry on Community Assets, to which Cwmpas gave evidence. This was followed by questions from a panel made up of representatives from Cwmpas, the Institute for Welsh Affairs and Partneriaith Ogwen, which allowed us to get into some more detail. Here are a few of the key points we learned:
We learned more about the community assets commission we have called for.
Agreed in the response was a recommendation we’d made in February for the development of a commission to stimulate innovative thinking on community ownership of land and assets in Wales. The Minister described her thinking, intending for this commission to be modelled on the Homelessness Action Group (HAG), which involved expert stakeholder input and provided a quick first report, setting out what was required to tackle immediate needs, before directing Welsh Government as to how to address longer term problems. The Minister asked for Cwmpas to be involved in the stakeholder engagement and we will ensure that community led housing is considered throughout.
There is definitively no space in the current government’s legislative programme for Community empowerment legislation.
The Minister provided confirmation that regardless of the progress made on better understanding what Welsh communities need by the commission, and despite calls from ourselves and others, there was simply no capacity to legislate for community empowerment in this term of government. The Minister encouraged all of us on the call to continue to lobby on the issue and ensure that it makes the manifestoes of as many parties as possible ahead of the next election. She also talked enthusiastically about doing what we can in the current legislative context, noting that she was happy to discuss removing barriers to existing funding streams, for instance, as well as to addressing community capacity (learning from the Second Homes Pilot to ensure that Welsh Government are getting ‘expert help into communities, not relying on volunteers’). She also noted the recent formation of a cross-departmental policies board within Welsh Government as evidence of a move to a more community-focussed approach.
The door to community led housing funding remains open
Of the 16 recommendations made by the Senedd inquiry, Welsh Government have accepted or accepted in principle 15 of those. The sole rejected recommendation was for the establishment of a specific fund to support the delivery of community-led housing. Despite the apparently stark nature of that exclusion, we are working with WG officials on a route to funding via an existing funding stream which we are optimistic will provide a regular source for community groups to apply to in future. The Minister told us that she shares that optimism and gave us some insight into her thinking on the issue: she noted her commitment to existing community funds (which she said will continue to evolve) and set out her intention to include a review of existing funding streams in the terms of reference for the commission, which will give opportunity for discussion of how best to fund community led housing.
Overall, the event gives scope for optimism. Welsh Government are taking community empowerment seriously and we will seek to influence the next steps in the best interests of community groups.
The event can be viewed here.