As Welsh Housing Quarterly magazine celebrates its 25th birthday, Judy Wayne offers her vision for what housing and Wales might look like in another 25 years.
The general election of 2020 marked something of a sea change, politically, socially and economically. The landslide return of an anti-austerity administration challenged, for the first time in a generation, the underlying principle of ‘private provision good, public provision bad’.
The early renationalisation of the railways was achieved remarkably smoothly, and benefits to the public, business and the treasury were quickly realised. This encouraged further exercises in the re-establishment of public ownership over the remaining period of the parliament. The 2025 election, memorable for the elevation of Russell Brand to the House of Lords in the dissolution honours, saw the same government returned with its majority only slightly reduced.
The Public Housing Act 2027 had the purpose of returning to public ownership dwellings that had, over the years, been subject to the Right to Buy. Councils were empowered to resume ownership of, and responsibility for, all houses that had originally been erected at public expense.
Owners were refunded the discounted sum originally paid (less considerations for inappropriate alterations, stone-cladding etc) and tenancy of the same property. The combination of, in many cases, mortgage-into-(economic) rent, the provision of comprehensive maintenance services, and a handy lump sum proved highly attractive to the overwhelming majority of households affected.
The sudden expansion of local authority housing, especially in the most affluent parts of the country, created a matching increase in rental income and consequent opportunities for both new building and refurbishment. For the first time in decades there was a dip in homelessness statistics and, as in the 1950s, local councils vied for which could provide most new homes. Parker Morris standards (updated to cover renewable energy and smart technology) were reintroduced.
New and expanding communities required schools, hospitals, libraries, sports facilities, arts centres etc. All were forthcoming, not through grudging Section 106 payments, but as a matter course under the prevailing spirit of municipal pride and achievement. Home ownership, once regarded as an essential aspiration, became increasingly optional.
The desire to contribute to the common good increased the pool of people willing to get involved in the governance of housing bodies and many more housing associations became mutual organisations. The co-operative movement increased in all sectors and housing co-operatives became a widely recognised form of tenure.
It is now nearly a decade since all constituent members of the United Kingdom achieved independence within a federated Great Britain.
England, under the presidency of Russell Brand, has, of course, gone its own way. But the revived tradition of public housing continues strongly in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
The selection of Derek Brockway as Wales’ first president was an inspired choice given the very substantial revenue we now derive from the sale of water to England. This money, added to rental income from public housing, helps ensure the ever-increasing quality of Welsh housing stock. On independence a new WHQS was established for 2040; it was achieved throughout Wales by 2037.
Alternatively, things may pan out differently …
An alternative future
If current trends persist, population increases will mean that there will be continuing unmet demand for housing.
Projections by Statistics for Wales indicate a population increase of 8% to 3.32 million in 2037. By the same date, the number of people over 65 will have increased by 50% over 25 years, with one-person households making up most of a 15% increase in households. Average household size, projected at 2.31 persons will decrease over the next 25 years, reflecting demographic changes.
If these estimates are even approximately accurate, providing more housing will be essential. Potential revisions to population estimates for 2030, factoring in possible mass migration into Wales away from areas of climate change and conflict, increase the demand for housing while giving a boost to the economy from the skills of incoming residents. These youthful newcomers will also contribute to changing the age profile of the nation, and enabling population renewal in the longer term.
Suitable housing, of all tenures, that people can afford and which is in the right location, will continue to be a big challenge for governments and housing providers, one to which they must rise.
Trends in urbanisation – 20-40% growth in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham, and depopulation in former industrial areas which are now increasingly attractive rural areas – will accelerate.
Housing, health and social care agencies will have to find new ways of working together to cope with an ageing population.
25 years on, probably much earlier, technology will change the way we live in houses. Domotics (automation within the home), externally controlled heating, hi-fi and security, and health applications, will be commonplace, as will smart transport networks. High-speed broadband will have reached everywhere.
However, in a more technologically-driven society, people will want to take full and active control of at least one aspect of their lives; there will be resurgence in practical skills such as gardening, carpentry, painting, and arts activities. The current fascination with baking is a portent. Housing providers will encourage the development of home improvement skills for older generations; schools will teach practical skills to the younger ones.
Housing management will still be a recognisable service, though it will blur at the edges with caring services for older and more vulnerable people.
Most functional landlord and tenant interactions will occur on-line. Leaseholders will choose the landlords that provide the best management and maintenance services.
As historic trends show, much of the existing stock, of all tenures, will remain. Home owners, housing associations and councils will continue to maintain their stock to higher standards than private sector landlords. In the next decade, though, maintenance cycles will lengthen due to financial constraints and/or decisions to invest in new developments.
Some difficult decisions about poorly performing stock will be made, with more demolitions and replacement with technologically smart houses. There will be resurgence in area-based regeneration (enveloping) and new build (garden city villages).
There will be a growth in off-site housing construction. This could be flat-pack housing, delivered by the likes of IKEA, TESCO, or by Welsh companies using our natural resources. These new homes will be of a flexible design to cater for changes in household need over the generations.
Home ownership will continue its current decline and private renting increase, though the pattern will vary by location, much depending on affordability.
While local authorities and housing associations (HAs) will remain as providers of rented housing, there will be fewer of both following more rounds of local government reorganisation and HA mergers. Some HAs will become public-owned companies with charitable housing arms; there will be some public companies with charitable housing arms. Regulation of public bodies, including HAs, will be by an independent regulator, responsible for price and quality, for all tenures.
Capital subsidies will dwindle over the years and new sources of funding sought and found from charitable beneficiaries and private companies. Instead of 19th century philanthropy and 20th century Corporate Social Responsibility, the 21st century mantra will be ‘Economic Return on Community Investment’.
By 2040 Wales will not yet have embraced an independent future: the Scotland model, though with more and more powers devolved to Welsh Government. This is on the horizon for 2050.
Alternatively, again, things may pan out differently …