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Roisin Willmott: The complexities of rural housing in Wales

Dr Roisin Willmott OBE FRTPI is Director of RTPI Wales.

When discussing rural housing issues, where best to go than the Royal Welsh Show, which takes place in Llanelwedd, near Builth Wells every July Royal Welsh Show - Royal Welsh ( The Show, the largest agricultural show in Europe, draws together a wide spectrum of rural interests. I was pleased to join the RICS Wales’ panel to discuss rural housing this year and despite only for an hour the full and complex array of issues came to the surface.

Planning in rural areas and delivering housing are at the sharp end of many of today’s issues. The need to balance the needs of rural communities to ensure they can thrive to deliver so much of what we need – food, biodiversity, carbon capture, places for leisure and sport, flood management – in a sustainable way; and in Wales ‘culture’ is in the legal requirements, alongside environment, social and economic sustainable development.  However, all of this comes at a cost and at smaller scales of economy when compared to urban areas.

One of the main topics which exercised the audience was that of holiday accommodation. Welsh Government is implementing a series of measures to address the unsustainable pressure the take up of short term lets and second homes are having in rural areas in Wales. Although the complexity of the issues means that in practice there are unintended impacts. For example, Local Authorities now have the power to increase Council Tax by up to 300% for self-catering accommodation and to close the loophole which was being exploited by those who were not maximising the tourism potential. There is now a threshold of being available to let for at least 252 days and actually let for at least 182 days in any 12-month period.  However as cited by the CLA on the panel, for small farms outside the tourist hotspots, seeking to diversify their income this level is unattainable.

This is just one example of the complexity of addressing rural housing needs.

There was support for the planning measures which Welsh Government has introduced, with changes to the Use Class Order, and the proposed Article 4 scheme (this restricts the ability to use PD rights to move between the housing use classes) which Cyngor Gwynedd (Gwynedd Council) is currently consulting on. However, there was a call for other Authorities in Wales to move forward urgently with introducing Article 4 areas. RTPI Cymu is partnering with Cyngor Gwynedd at the National Eisteddfod on 6 August to discuss these proposals.

One Welsh Government housing policy that came under fire for not supporting rural communities, was that of One Planet Developments (ODP), cited by some groups as being innovative. Comments from the Llanelwedd audience were that these schemes were isolated from local communities and did not support rural areas and a strain on local authorities for their monitoring.

No discussion on planning issues at these times can go without reference to resourcing of planning services. Our Big Conversation referred to the needs of rural authorities facing particular challenges in resourcing.

So next time you’re looking at some early Pembrokeshire potatoes, or stood in a queue for a restaurant in sunny west Wales wondering why they can’t find you a table, give a thought to the rural housing issues and the knock on impact that has on us all.

Details of the RTPI Cymru event at the National Eisteddfod can be found here: RTPI | RTPI ar yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol 2023 – RTPI at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol 2023

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