A NEAR £550m programme to modernise council homes in Swansea has seen thousands of tenants get new kitchens, bathrooms, home insulation and other energy-saving support.
The 20-year Wales Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) programme has featured upgrades for 13,000 homes and local communities, creating and supporting hundreds of local jobs and apprenticeships.
And the ambitious modernisation programme is set to enter a new phase in the coming years, aiming to make council houses even more energy-efficient and fit for a carbon net zero future.
Andrea Lewis, Cabinet Member for Homes and Energy, said the achievements of the WHQS programme over the last two decades have helped transform lives, ensuring homes were safe, warm and affordable for tenants.
On top of that the WHQS programme was a test-bed for the council’s pioneering Beyond Bricks and Mortar project that aims to support local people into quality jobs, helping support more than 300 into jobs, apprenticeships and work experience.
Over the years almost £225m was spent on new double-glazing windows, roof and wall repairs, along with another £33m on energy-saving initiatives like new boilers, heating controls and loft insulation.
Another £147m was spent on modern kitchens and bathrooms with £51m going on adaptations to disabled people’s homes and £68m on safety and security measures like smoke alarms, gas and electrical safety measures.
Cllr Lewis said: “The WHQS programme was the biggest investment in housing Swansea Council has seen for more than a generation. But the real benefit has been for individual families and tenants who’ve got a safe, affordable and modern home to live in.
“The WHQS programme was first and foremost an investment in the people of Swansea and their futures. It has delivered and many thousands of people have benefited from it.
“During the current cost-of-living crisis the value of a decent home can’t be understated. Thanks to the WHQS council tenants have a good place to live, providing security for children so they can learn and prosper and communities a stable environment where families can grow and older people feel safe.”
None of the cost of the programme has come from the council tax. It has all been paid for through rents and grants from the Welsh Government.
Cllr Lewis said as much of the WHQS investment as possible was spent locally, benefiting city jobs and the Swansea economy.
She said: “Nearly 90 jobs were created directly by the programme, with 500 more supported in the council and among local businesses supplying goods, services and labour to the programme.
“On top of that scores of local apprentices were taken on to help deliver the programme, creating opportunities for the next generation of plumbers, electricians and other specialist tradespeople.
“In the last year alone 18 more building trade apprentices have been taken on by our building services team which helped lead the WHQS programme.”
She added: “Beyond Bricks and Mortar was an initiative pioneered in Swansea and now taken up elsewhere in Wales.
“Its aim was to use the buying and spending power of programmes like WHQS to put community benefit clauses in contracts with private companies. They committed to taking on trainees and offer work experience to local people so that they could use the opportunity as a stepping stone to full-time, good quality jobs.
“It’s meant that not only have tenants got better homes, hundreds of local people have got better jobs too.
“The WHQS programme has helped transform lives for this generation and the next. Swansea Council is continuing to invest in council homes, in maintaining, improving and making them more energy-efficient over the coming years.
“The next phase of the programme currently being discussed with the Welsh Government and social housing providers across Wales is looking at how far and how quickly we can go in improving them still further in the years ahead.
“There will be a particular emphasis on initiatives like retro-fitting homes to make them warmer at less cost and reducing their carbon footprints.
“Successfully creating WHQS homes for thousands of tenants is something to be proud of. But the 20-year project is a first step, there is more to come.”