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Time to raise the bar on Wales’ housing standards says Minister

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Welsh Government Minister Julie James has announced the upcoming launch of a consultation on proposed new social housing quality standard for Wales.

The Minister said the Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023 (WHQS 2023) would ‘build on the excellent achievements of its predecessor’ – the standard introduced in 2002.

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Since then, the Welsh Government has worked with social landlord delivery partners to invest billions of pounds to significantly improve and maintain the quality of social homes across Wales.

As a result, by the end of 2020, 99 per cent of social housing in Wales met the original WHQS – a standard which is more demanding than in the other home nations.

Speaking in the Senedd, the Minister said: “Reflecting on the levels of achievement of the current standard, I am sure members will agree that, after 20 years, the standard is due to be reviewed, especially to acknowledge the considerable changes to how people live, work and feel about their homes.

“The world has moved on apace in the last 20 years and our expectation of our homes has moved on too.

“The proposed standard aims to be bold but ultimately achievable. We aim with our consultation to ensure that the voice of the sector is taken into account in finalising these standards and getting them right.

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“Setting standards is not an easy business at the best of times. It is even more challenging setting standards relating to the decarbonisation of homes – which is a developing area where we are learning what works best on an ongoing basis.

“The £220m committed over this term of government to the Optimised Retrofit Programme, our whole house, pragmatic, approach to decarbonising existing homes will help.

“It will provide some of the answers to how we effectively and efficiently reduce carbon emissions from homes in line with our Net Zero Wales plan.

“However, in the face of the climate change emergency we cannot stand still, and we must continue to push progress and set standards to address decarbonisation through a variety of measures in existing social housing.”

More than 900 tenants have been involved in the development of the new standard and technical elements have been supported by experts who have looked at what else is happening across the UK and the rest of the world.

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The Minister added: “I make no apology for proposing what some will see as a bold approach, I am determined the standards bar should be raised again.

“Meeting our Net Zero Wales targets requires us to make determined progress and I believe these standards are fit to take us forward in that regard.

“Our social housing tenants deserve these standards to be the best we can make them.

“My firm hope is that these standards will not only be brought to bear for social housing, but that in the future other tenures may consider how they too might meet and exceed these expectations.”

The proposed WHQS 2023 standards will be published for consultation from Wednesday May 11 and will be open for stakeholders to respond to for 12 weeks.

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Construction

New support scheme launched to help those affected by fire safety issues

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A new support scheme for those facing significant financial hardship as a result of fire safety issues will launch today.

Welsh Government Climate Change Minister Julie James confirmed the Leaseholder Support Scheme would open at 10am on Monday, June 27.

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The new scheme will provide tailored, independent advice to leaseholders in affected homes.

It is currently targeted at leaseholders who are owner occupiers and those who have become displaced residents, but the Minister confirmed applications would be monitored and eligibility kept under review to ensure ‘those who need support most have access to the scheme’.

The Minister said: “Today, we are launching the Leaseholder Support Scheme which will help those who need support the most.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the external partners and sector experts who have assisted us in developing this scheme at pace.

“Their support and hard work have been critical to establishing the right qualifying criteria and support processes.”

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All leaseholders eligible for this scheme will now receive advice from an Independent Financial Adviser, with the costs fully covered by the Welsh Government.

The advice will support them in making the right choice for them and, if the sale of their property is the right route, the Welsh Government will enable them to sell their property at a fair market value.

The Minister continued: “Addressing fire safety defects in medium and high-rise buildings must go beyond cladding to make these buildings as safe as they can be.

“This has been our premise from the outset and, although it makes identifying, addressing and resolving issues significantly more complex, it is the right approach.

“There are no quick or easy fixes, but we cannot compromise on achieving the right, sustainable solutions.

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“Anything less leaves the door open to the risk of further issues arising and it is important to me that, once these issues are resolved, they remain resolved.

“We must do this properly, to get it right now and for the future.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS has been critical of the Welsh Government response to the cladding crisis.

Ms Dodds said: “This announcement will help a very small number of people and continues to let property developers off the hook. Homeowners must see urgent action to make their buildings safe and the Welsh Government is still failing to do that.

“We have been campaigning on this issue for so long now and unfortunately it has become quite clear that there has been a lack of active engagement and communication with homeowners by Welsh Labour that has exacerbated the frustration that people feel with the situation.

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“We cannot continue to have people living in unsafe buildings across Wales going to bed every night fearing for their safety. The longer this continues the greater the bills that sit on people’s kitchen tables are, bills the Welsh Government has stated cannot be recouped by homeowners.

“Labour need to stop shielding property developers and focus on delivering the urgent remediation work needed to make their buildings safe.”

Jane Dodds addresses a meeting of residents about cladding concerns in Swansea

The Welsh Conservatives meanwhile claim that only two weeks ago, the First Minister was unable to answer how much money has specifically been set aside to tackle dangerous cladding in Wales.

It said that data released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that Labour’s Minister for Housing only met housing developers three times in 2021 for a grand total of 2 and a half hours.

Commenting, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Housing, Janet Finch-Saunders MS said: “For years, people in Wales have been living in fear as a result of dangerous cladding with very little help coming from the Labour Government. People living in these flats don’t need advice, they need access to cash.

“While the UK Conservative Government has been leading the way in dealing with dangerous cladding, Labour in Wales has been too slow in rolling out funding.

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“It is vital that financial support is made available so people are not forced to sell their flats to the Minister and can finally live in their homes without fear.

“Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay need to treat this issue with the severity it deserves and ensure people living in dangerous flats have access to cash quickly.”

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Specialists pool talents for city site’s regeneration

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Two specialist regeneration companies will work together to redevelop a key site in Swansea city centre.

Urban Splash have announced a joint venture with real estate developers Milligan for the transformation of the Swansea Central North site in the area of St Mary’s Church.

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The news comes within weeks of Swansea Council appointing Urban Splash as its long-term partner for the wider £750m private sector funded transformation of sites that also include the Civic Centre and land along the riverfront in St Thomas.

Plenty of opportunities will be available for people to give feedback on plans for each site once proposals are developed in more detail.

Early proposals for the 5.5-acre Swansea Central North site at the former St David’s Shopping Centre include new office buildings, shared workspaces, apartments and an area for small creative businesses to make and sell their products.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader, said: “Having companies of this quality on board is great news for the Swansea Central North site that links Oxford Street with the £135m Copr Bay district the council has already delivered.

“Both in the UK and overseas, Urban Splash and Milligan have delivered some of the most successful mixed-use schemes there are, bringing exciting solutions that meet the challenges of modern times to regenerate city centres and communities.

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“The redevelopment of Swansea Central North and the other sites forming part of the overall £750m plans will deliver the kind of top class visiting, living and working experiences the people of Swansea and our businesses deserve, while also boosting our economy, creating jobs and helping attract even more investment to the city.”

Tom Bloxham MBE, chairman of Urban Splash and John Milligan, CEO of Milligan (Image: Swansea Council)

Tom Bloxham MBE, Chairman and founder of Urban Splash, said: “We are incredibly excited about teaming up with Milligan to deliver our ideas for Swansea. Their expertise in leisure, commerce and market curation provides the type of innovative thinking local authorities will need as they embark on town centre transformations.

“This will build on all the great work Swansea Council has already led to regenerate Swansea as the city embarks on an exciting future.”

Milligan  have helped deliver or breathe new life into some of the most iconic mixed-use schemes across the UK and beyond. These include Camden Lock Market in London, Liverpool’s MetQuarter and the Mailbox in Birmingham. The company has also vowed to lead the way on the path to net zero emissions with sustainable, future-proofed, low energy schemes that benefit the environment, societies and communities.

The former St David’s shopping centre is the next part of the city centre set to be transformed (Image: Swansea Council)

John Milligan, CEO of Milligan said, “We have long admired the creative and long-term approach of Urban Splash. We first talked about doing something together over 15 years ago, so it has taken a while to put our first joint venture together. But the timing couldn’t be better. Now more than ever as we redefine our physical spaces and create new town centre destinations, agility and diverse thinking will help us create enduring places.

“Swansea is a city where a major regeneration programme is already under way, so we’re delighted to be working with Urban Splash and Swansea Council on such a key site in its city centre. As a city, Swansea has so much potential.”

Other schemes Milligan has delivered include the refurbishment of the Zubiarte shopping centre in Bilbao, as well as the transformation of the Maremagnum centre in Barcelona into a respected and exciting retail lifestyle destination.

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(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Tower crane helping transform former nightclub site

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Here’s how the former Oceana nightclub site in Swansea now looks as early construction works continue on a new office development there that will provide space for 600 jobs.

The first of two tower cranes is now on site at The Kingsway, with foundations being laid ahead of work starting to construct the building’s concrete frame.

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Developed by Swansea Council with Bouygues UK as main contractor, the five-storey scheme is due for completion in the summer of 2023. The new development will be carbon zero in operation and worth £32.6 million a year to Swansea’s economy.

It will include 114,000 square feet of commercial floor space with flexible co-working and office opportunities for businesses in sectors like tech, digital and the creative industries.

The development is being part-funded by the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal and supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

A huge new crane is helping transform former Oceana site (Image: Swansea Council)
A huge new crane is helping transform former Oceana site (Image: Swansea Council)
A huge new crane is helping transform former Oceana site (Image: Swansea Council)

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Investment and Tourism, said: “The arrival of the first tower crane on site is another sign of progress for this new development, which will further boost our economy by providing space for hundreds of workers and generating more footfall for city centre traders.

“We know there’s unmet demand in Swansea for this kind of modern, flexible workspace in growing sectors like tech and digital, so developments of this quality are key if we’re to keep these businesses in the city and encourage them not to relocate elsewhere.

“Due to be carbon zero in operation, this scheme will also help Swansea meet its net zero city ambition by 2050, while complementing the nearby ‘living building’ development being led by Hacer Developments and generating far better links between The Kingsway and Oxford Street.

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“Discussions with potential tenants are also making continual progress as our £1bn regeneration of the city gathers even more pace.”

Artist’s impression of new office development (Image: Swansea Council)

Access to businesses nearby will be maintained throughout the construction works. Temporary surfacing has been deliberately laid in front of the development site, with permanent paving to be installed there once main construction work has finished.

Other features of the new development will include a green roof terrace and balconies overlooking the city centre and Swansea Bay.

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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