Fraser Lynes: Addressing the Scottish housing crisis – A call for pragmatic solutions

Fraser Lynes: Addressing the Scottish housing crisis – A call for pragmatic solutions

Fraser Lynes

Fraser Lynes, managing director of Cruden Homes, discusses the Scottish housing crises and the limitations of the NPF4.

Scotland’s housing system is at a critical juncture. The Scottish Government has acknowledged the nation’s housing emergency and announced its intention to recognise housing as a national outcome. This is a vital first step, but the real challenge is translating this intention into effective action. As Managing Director of Cruden Homes, I’m acutely aware of the many, complex issues facing house builders today, particularly under the constraints of current planning regulations such as the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4).

Recently, we hosted Housing Minister, Paul McLennan at our Longniddry Village development, a fantastic example of sympathetically extending this East Lothian village with affordable and private new homes. This multi-award-winning development really captures the vision for community-oriented housing, featuring amenities such as a play park, sports pitch, restored mill pond, and a wildflower meadow, with the new homes designed to be perfectly in keeping with the traditional properties of coastal East Lothian. Yet despite being acknowledged as ‘one of the best examples of new housing ever seen’, Longniddry Village is the antithesis of what NPF4 calls for – which is primarily urban and brownfield regeneration. It’s clear to see there is a massive disconnect between planning policy and the homes that people want, aspire and need to live in across all tenures.

At the heart the problem is the severe shortage of suitable developable land. This scarcity is compounded by recent legal rulings, such as the Court of Session’s decision on the Miller Homes appeal in Mossend in West Calder. The court upheld the Scottish Ministers’ refusal to permit a 250-home development, citing incompatibility with a policy within NPF4, which restricts the development of new homes on land not allocated for housing unless specific conditions are met. The ruling removes the requirement to maintain a five-year effective housing land supply, with many industry experts citing this as another major setback in tackling the housing crisis.

The Local Development Plans (LDPs), which guide housing developments, have recently moved from a five-year to a ten-year cycle which is likely to significantly reduce opportunities for allocating sites. The emphasis on urban regeneration of brownfield sites, while sound in theory, often fails in practice. Many brownfield sites are occupied by businesses that do not want to relocate or find it impractical or expensive to do so, and the costs associated with redeveloping these sites, such as infrastructure upgrades and site remediation, are prohibitively high. They are generally complex to design and require specialist skills to deliver, with finance costs and capital tie up for SMEs rendering many projects simply unviable. It is also questionable whether high density urban living is compatible with the needs of many households.

While SMEs play a crucial role in developing challenging brownfield, urban and more remote rural sites, they are often hindered by excessive red tape and slow decision-making processes. The current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to planning is inadequate. We need to streamline these processes and provide targeted support to unlock the potential of these vital house builders.

Equally, there is an urgent need for more resources in local authority planning departments. The current planning application process is notoriously slow, often taking four times longer than the government’s target. This inefficiency not only hampers developers but also impacts the broader community by delaying much-needed housing.

The Scottish housing crisis is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted response. While NPF4 aims to create a more sustainable and inclusive planning system, its current implementation falls short of addressing the immediate needs of the housing market. By adopting a more flexible, innovative, and resource-efficient approach, we can begin to bridge the gap between policy and reality, ultimately ensuring that every Scot has access to a home that meets their needs. The time for action is now, and it is imperative that we work together, Government, developers, and communities, to overcome these challenges and build a better future for all.

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