Blog: Homes and communities top of the agenda

Councillor Kate Campbell

To mark Scottish Housing Day, City of Edinburgh Council housing convenor, Cllr Kate Campbell, discusses the challenges that lie ahead.

The scale of the challenge we face in Edinburgh around housing is enormous.

We have a naturally pressured housing market. Surrounded by greenbelt and sea, Edinburgh is a compact, thriving capital city where more and more people are choosing to live. Land is relatively scarce. And expensive.

The tourist industry is booming and this brings more pressure. Over 10,000 properties were used as holiday lets over August. Many will return to residential use but undoubtedly a sizeable number will remain as holiday accommodation, reducing the supply of homes.

We have only 15% social housing in the city. Compared to the national average across Scotland of around 23%. It’s not hard to see why homes in the city are unaffordable to many people.

The lack of affordable homes has contributed to the terrible situation where families and individuals are being housed in temporary accommodation for long periods, unable to get on with their lives.

These pressures combined have led to our pledge, working with our housing association partners, to build 20,000 affordable homes over the next 10 years. One of the most ambitious housebuilding programmes in the country and one that will be difficult to deliver. But we are determined to make it happen.

And what we build is also incredibly important. Not just homes but communities. We’re undertaking major regeneration projects. And we’re getting them right.

Our projects at Pennywell and Leith Fort have won a whole host of awards, for placemaking, architecture and quality of life. We’re engaging with communities about what places mean to them and building new developments that meet their aspirations and importantly retain the history of those communities.

We’re bringing forward developments at all different scales, from large areas like Pennywell to much smaller sites like the ones at Clermiston, Pilton and Bingham. And we’re building in all shapes and sizes. From flats to colonies and with a special focus on accessible housing that meets people’s needs throughout their lifetime. As I write there are over 2000 affordable homes on site being constructed.

But it’s also hugely important that we invest in our existing stock. Alongside our commitment to build, we also have a commitment to invest around £500 million in refurbishing and improving council housing across the city over the next 15 years.

Some of this is challenging, particularly where we have mixed tenure blocks with owner-occupiers or private landlords. We’re developing a strategy to make sure this doesn’t prevent all council owned homes from getting the investment they need.

We have a working group looking at how best to tackle the issues caused by holiday lets. Both in terms of the effect on the number of homes available for people to live in, and how we stop the anti-social behaviour that is blighting many residents’ lives.

Our report identifies about how best to use the powers we already have, but also what powers we think we really need to get to grips with short term lets. We are working with the Scottish Government to find a solution that protects homes and communities.

And on homelessness we have the task force that I chair. We’ve already increased the number of temporary flats and changed B&Bs to shared housing where everyone can access cooking facilities, food storage and a washing machine.

We will continue to focus on preventing homelessness. And develop a Housing First strategy so that people with multiple and complex needs can access the support they need to maintain a tenancy and stay off the streets.

There’s a lot more work to do and we need to be innovative. Our aim is to transform temporary accommodation for good.

Scottish Housing Day is important because it makes us stop and reflect. Housing is so much more than bricks and mortar. It’s about homes and communities and most importantly the people that live in them.