Social housing focus ‘will not solve Scotland’s housing crisis’

Nicola Barclay

Nicola Barclay

The Scottish Government’s “political focus” on affordable and social housing is exacerbating Scotland’s housing crisis and fails to grasp the commercial realities of development, according to Scotland’s house builders.

In an interview with The Times, Nicola Barclay, chief executive of industry body Homes for Scotland (HFS), said the government’s target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes by the end of this parliamentary session is damaging private sector growth and would not solve the current housing crisis.

Ms Barclay added increasing the number of homes being built required a better understanding from Holyrood of the commercial realities of development as well as the help of the private sector.

She told The Times: “The government must work in partnership with the private sector but it seems reluctant to acknowledge the importance of home builders in solving the housing crisis or the urgency with which we need action if it is to become easier, rather than increasingly difficult, to open new sites.

“It requires a cultural change in the way politicians, local authorities and communities view development.”

Ms Barclay added: “Three-quarters of Scots want to own their own home but there is no national target for the private sector, which accounts for the biggest proportion of housing output and significantly contributes to the provision of affordable housing through planning policy. If the target for affordable homes is to be met, the Scottish Government must broaden its focus and adopt a whole-system approach that recognises the importance of all tenures.”

Planning performance figures for 2016/17, published earlier this year, revealed that the average decision time for major housing developments was 44.9 weeks for 2016/17, more than four weeks slower than the previous year (40.6 weeks) and almost three times the statutory period of 16 weeks.

And just last month, HFS urged the Scottish Government to guard against complacency as new statistics showed a marginal increase of just 251 homes (1%) completed in 2016-17 compared to the previous year.

Ms Barclay said: “We are still building 36% less homes than pre-recession levels. Housing output is flatlining, with the most recent official figures showing a total of only 16,498 homes built in 2016, just 88 more, or 1%, than in the year before. With our population at a record high, that’s bad news for those looking for a new home, particularly young people and growing families.”

Dismissing the criticism, housing minister Kevin Stewart, said: “Our changes to the planning system aim to strengthen the role of planning in delivering housing and infrastructure and continue to support the industry and local authorities to deliver their housing priorities with quality homes in mixed communities that fit local needs.

“The rate of house-building completions across all sectors puts Scotland ahead of England and Wales and we outperform the whole of the UK in new-build social sector completion rates. In fact, we have built 41,000 more homes than would have been built at England’s slower per-capita rate.”