New Scottish Government urged to fulfil election housing promises

Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor

Organisations from across the housing spectrum have challenged the incumbent Scottish Government to realise their pre-election housing pledges and tackle the severe lack of homes in Scotland.

The results of last week’s Scottish parliamentary election saw the SNP secure a third term in government but fall short of an overall majority.

Congratulating the SNP on forming the next Scottish Government, Mary Taylor, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), said: “Given the parliamentary arithmetic, we urge all parties to work together constructively to build the affordable housing to which they are all committed.

“Commitments to increasing the amount of affordable housing, introducing extra energy efficiency measures to fight fuel poverty and using the new welfare powers to, amongst other measures, abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ are supported across the Scottish Parliament. It is vital that these pledges are realised over the lifetime of the next parliament in order for everyone in Scotland to have a warm, energy efficient, affordable home and to improve the life chances, health and wellbeing of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Scotland.

“Together with our members, we stand ready to assist government and parliament in realising these commitments.”

RICS Scotland said the biggest challenge for Scotland’s next government will be tackling the “chronic” shortage of houses across all tenures.

Congratulating Nicola Sturgeon, who is likely to become the first elected female First Minister of Scotland, Sarah Speirs, director RICS in Scotland, said: “Certainty and stability are key to property investment, development and a vibrant economy. We would encourage the new government to be clear on how they will work to deliver that stability, given that they have no overall majority.

“We look forward to working together on the implementation of the SNP pledge to develop a Rural Infrastructure Plan, which has been long called for by RICS. This should have a considered and coherent remit, with sufficient provisions for transport, energy and broadband connectivity at the fore.”

On the challenge of delivering enough homes for Scotland, Speirs added: “Key to this will be developing plans to swiftly bring back into use Scotland’s 27,000 long-term empty properties. The poor condition of the country’s existing housing stock also needs to be addressed. Through a planned maintenance scheme, which would involve mandatory building condition surveys for tenement properties, more homes will be available to house future generations in Scotland. This proposal could help increase the viable supply of homes, and create and maintain jobs in the construction sector – particularly for SME builders. We look forward to seeing these issues addressed as a priority.”

Alan Brown, CEO of CALA Group, called on the next Scottish Government to refocus housing policy and address skills shortages.

Mr Brown said: “Scotland needs to build more homes. A lot more homes in fact, if you believe the recent report from the independent Commission on Housing and Wellbeing, which last year recommended that the Scottish housebuilding industry needs to increase its production by almost a third compared to the 17,360 new homes built during 2015.

“All of the main political parties in this year’s election are in agreement over how this could be achieved, principally, in their view, through boosting the supply of new affordable homes; a commendable strategy, given that many first time buyers in Scotland are still struggling to get a foot on the housing ladder.

“The incumbent party, the SNP, who look set to secure re-election despite losing their overall majority, have already taken a number of steps which they believe will make up this shortfall. Their most positive contribution has been their pragmatic approach to planning, especially in relation to development on the greenbelt, which far exceeds the current system we see south of the border.

“However, during their tenure they have also implemented major changes to Land and Building Transaction Tax, introduced a 3 per cent supplement on second homes and announced a successor to the Help To Buy scheme, to further push the agenda for more affordable housing.

“My concern is that the Government-elect risks creating a law of unintended consequences, as these policies aimed at boosting the affordable end of the market, are encouraging Scottish housebuilders to focus on the provision of smaller homes, over large. While building a new 2-bed home may meet the needs of a single small household or first time buyer, it will not result in any movement further up the housing ladder. Yet, building a new 4-bed home plays a two-fold role - addressing the demands of current overcrowded households who are in need of larger housing and, in turn, meeting the needs of smaller, newly forming households by freeing up smaller housing further down the ladder.

“What will happen in three to five years’ time when the current flurry of first time buyers turns into growing families who want to upsize but cannot, as housing policies today have stalled the supply of larger family homes for the future?

“At the same time, the industry is still facing a serious skills shortage, which so far has not been properly addressed. Will Scotland be able to build the additional homes it so desperately needs if there are not enough bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians to actually build them?

“Having seen the benefits of investing heavily in our own workforce in recent years through our graduate and apprenticeship programmes, I believe a new national programme to promote the opportunities in the construction industry would go a long way towards addressing this skills gap in Scotland.

“And while each of the parties are right to think that the undersupply of affordable housing is a problem, what Scotland really needs is housing policy that is far more balanced in nature, which encourages development at all stages of the housing ladder; not just at the bottom end of it.”

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