Craig Stirrat: Crisis, what crisis?

Craig Stirrat: Crisis, what crisis?

Craig Stirrat

Grampian Housing Association Group CEO Craig Stirrat reflects on last week’s Housing Festival which saw CIH Scotland declare a Scotland-wide housing emergency.

At last week’s Housing Festival, there was significant coverage of CIH Scotland’s warning that homelessness plans were at risk and the declaration of a housing emergency across the country.

In particular, there was widespread condemnation that the Scottish Government had cut the affordable housing budget in the midst of a homelessness crisis and in doing so putting its own goals and ambitions for Housing 2040 in jeopardy.

Conversely, the previous week, the Scottish Government had issued the results of the 2022 Scottish House condition survey which received little or no attention by the media nor by any sector involved in housing.

This begs the question - is the supply of new housing to meet the growing and diverse population needs more critical than the level of investment required to maintain standards and conditions of the existing 2.5 million occupied Scottish homes?

The answer is both Yes and No – since the issues are mutually dependent and both equally deserve attention for necessary levels of funding.

A report issued at the end of 2023, by Home Builders Federation, revealed that the UK has some of the oldest (38% built before 1946) and most expensive housing in Europe.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise that the results of the 2022 Scottish House Condition revealed that disrepair to critical elements, which are central to weather-tightness, structural stability and preventing deterioration of the property, stood at 49% in 2022.

Less than half of these (18% of all dwellings) required urgent disrepair to critical elements and just 3% had extensive disrepair (covering at least a fifth of the element area) to critical elements.

When we consider that the average estimated cost of basic maintenance per dwelling is £8k – even before we even consider applying net zero improvements ranging from an eye watering £80 to £100k per unit to achieve EnerPHit standards – we are talking about a requirement for millions of pounds of investment each year – which is necessary now but currently not being delivered.

Furthermore many homes are considered no longer fit for purpose (too small, too large, wrong type, access issues, wrong location for jobs /education etc) or are in need of comprehensive regeneration to help eradicate poverty (45% of social rented households in 2017 were living in dwellings in the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland ) – so it might not make economic sense to keep investing in maintaining these older homes if building new energy efficient homes in the right places that people need and want is the right thing to do.

Then we have costs of the unknown unknowns of housing maintenance – such as the impact of non-traditional construction methods like RAAC – currently affecting over 500 residents’ homes in Aberdeen – which is likely to be found in other homes across all local authority areas in Scotland.

Kicking the cost of expenditure of investment down the road is only adding to a crisis that will inevitably come to pass – creating the slums of the 21st Century.

Building more homes is necessary but not sufficient – given new homes only add about 1% per annum to the stock – we mustn’t take our eye off the necessary levels of maintenance investment required for our current housing stock.

However, I will be the first to accept that we will never have enough money to meet the systemic failures of our current housing crisis, but we can prioritise and mitigate against the effects of the crisis by ensuring we have a national and regional market system strategy with matched long term investment commitments, as advocated by Professor Duncan MacLennan at the Housing Festival, that addresses the condition of our current stock and provides sufficient homes to replace those no longer fit for purpose.

Share icon
Share this article: