CIH Scotland interviews Graham Simpson MSP

Graham Simpson MSP

CIH Scotland’s deputy director Callum Chomczuk caught up with Conservative MSP for Central Scotland and shadow minister for housing and communities Graham Simpson.

Graham, your party has sought to put housing at the top of the agenda in recent years. What do you see as the main challenges facing those looking to secure an affordable home and what are your solutions?

I think we need to go back two years to the 2016 election and the commitment from the SNP to build 50,000 affordable homes over this Parliament. This has now been amended to delivering 50,000 affordable homes, which is not the same as building new homes. Ultimately it is a lack of affordable supply at the root of our housing crisis.

The government needs to keep a focus on building new homes. Part of the solution to this logjam is ideas such as an infrastructure agency. We hear time and again about how proposed developments are not being progressed – our idea for a national agency could deliver basic infrastructure, such as roads, around which new housing can be built. In addition, such an agency would support schools and local services which are necessary to establish a modern generation of new towns in Scotland.

Your party has notably developed common priorities with the other opposition parties, most notably with the Scottish Greens on the issue of a Land Value Capture - can you set out what your priorities are when it comes to housing land reform and do you expect Parliament to make meaningful changes to the Planning Bill in the autumn when it is reconsidered?

We have made it clear that we think the current planning system is not fit for purpose and to this end, I am lodging a significant number of amendments to the Planning Bill for consideration when Parliament returns in the autumn. We have been clear for some time that we believe Land Value Capture could be part of the answer.

I have already lodged an amendment which would allow Land Value Capture in Simplified Development Zones. It would be an effective means to allow local authorities to acquire land at a level closer to existing use value rather than the anticipated value from future development. We believe this could actually help to deliver more homes and a greater variety of homes, with smaller builders and self builders getting a slice of the pie.

Crucially, of course, it could provide a way of paying for infrastructure, which really slows up the system.

There is undoubtedly support across the Parliament for our proposal but we will need to wait to see what view the government takes on the amendment

Following the recommendations from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG), one of the key recommendations is around rapid rehousing and the Scottish Government has committed £21m to support this. What are your views on the ambition, challenge and feasibility of delivering rapid rehousing in Scotland?

Homeless applications across the country are on the rise, with an extra 402 applications this year compared with the previous year.

Rapid rehousing is rightly a central part of efforts to eradicate homelessness and rough sleeping but it is not enough by itself. We need to see the development of more services that can support people to sustain a tenancy. Simply placing people in a home is not enough; we have to support them to remain there.

A lot of attention in this parliament has rightly been on the funding for 50,000 affordable homes. However, there have been claims that there is too much focus on the number of houses and not the size, tenure and appropriateness of the homes that are being built. What do the Scottish Conservatives want to see prioritised over the second half of this Parliament with regards to the 50,000 target?

One of the major challenges is that the government simply doesn’t have the data on what homes are being built and where. As a country, we need to get better at capturing what we are doing so that we can identify what demand and needs exist and that we are building the right homes in the right places

I hope that we can amend the Planning Bill going through Parliament so that local authorities can better ensure the construction of enough accommodation for disabled and elderly people in Scotland. The reports from EHRC and CIH Scotland were telling in setting out the lack of provision for those that need wheelchair accessible accommodation and why a lack of supply is at the heart of the problem. Unless we are building the right homes in the right places, even if we hit the 50,000 target, we are missing the point.

Finally, how can CIH Scotland members across Scotland best work with you and the Scottish Conservatives to inform your priorities over the course of this Parliament?

The best thing to do is just contact me. I am happy to meet your members in the Parliament but would much prefer to come out and meet at your office and sites. I am really keen to hear your members’ insight into what we should be prioritising as a party as we approach the next Parliamentary election in 2021. I want to hear from them about what would make the biggest difference to the sector and transform how we deliver housing in this county.

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