Head and shoulders of David HedgesDavid Hedges, Project Manager for the Home-Grown Homes Project, looks at the latest Welsh Government data on housing need and demand and asks just how many homes should we build?

The Home-Grown Homes Project will focus on building better social housing which uses wood and ideally home-grown wood in all its construction forms – in structural frames, windows and doors, cladding and insulation. There is a growing recognition of the benefits of using timber to build with and its versatility as the only true renewable building material. And the opportunity to use more of the timber we grow here in Wales is presented by the housing association sector with its programme of new build. It has a track record of delivery but it still only represents less than 20% of all the homes we build and we’re just not building enough.

At the end of January Welsh Government issued the latest estimates of housing need and demand for the period up to 2037/38  twenty years in which policy development, planning and finance will be focused on producing the housing supply to meet this need. There’s obviously uncertainty in the numbers, the further into the future they go, but the picture for the next five years is clear – with an estimate of an average 8,300 new homes (or additional housing units as housing language insists) needed each year. These figures include the backlog of existing unmet need which it’s assumed will all have been cleared by 2023/24. By the mid 2030s the average annual need for new homes could fall to below 4,000.

Bar chart for estimate of additional housing need in Wales shows decrease over selected time period

Average annual estimates of additional housing need (Wales). Figure taken from Welsh Government Statistical Report Estimates of housing need in Wales at a national and regional level (2018-based)

These numbers seem hard to believe given the current excess of demand over supply but prediction isn’t a science and experience tells us we seldom if ever deliver what’s really needed – we’re certainly not doing that now. In 2017-18 the number of new homes started was 6,037, 12% less than the previous year and the lowest annual figure since 2013/14. Housing completions for the year on the other hand were 6,663 – 2% lower than the previous year but the third highest number since 2008/9 – see here for the detail. The private sector completed 82% of these new homes but housing associations will be doing their bit to deliver the target of 20,000 new homes by 2021 agreed with Government.

Community Housing Cymru’s report on the Socio-Economic Impact of the Housing Association and Community Mutual Sector 2017/18   shows that the Welsh sector aims to deliver 3,000 homes in the current year. They have successfully delivered 20,800 since 2008/9 and, as a sector, have an ambition to deliver 75,000 homes by the 2036 horizon.

It’s all the more reason why initiatives like the Affordable Housing Review will be looking at ways of building homes faster. Announced by Welsh Government in April of last year and chaired by PwC’s Lynn Pamment the review aims to deliver its recommendations in April. An update on the review’s progress appears in the latest Welsh Housing Quarterly and it’s clear that what and how we build will feature in the review’s recommendations. It would be good to think that the potential to build home-grown timber into the construction process gets recognised – in both on-site and off-site applications. We’ll be watching with interest.