Positive affordable housing figures mask unresolved issues, says sector

Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government that it has exceeded its affordable homes target by more than 10 per cent but warned that unresolved issues may impair future progress.

Figures published yesterday revealed that 33,490 affordable homes were delivered over the last Parliamentary term, exceeding the government’s 30,000 homes objective.

Mary Taylor, SFHA chief executive, said: “We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has met and exceeded its affordable homes target. Housing targets represent more than just an amount of new builds – people’s life chances, health and wellbeing will have been improved by securing a high quality, energy efficient, affordable home.

“Scotland desperately needs more affordable homes in order to solve its current housing crisis, and we acknowledge the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the supply of homes by setting a new target of delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes, backed by more than £3 billion, over the lifetime of this Parliament.

“However, we are aware that other factors impact on the sector’s ability to deliver increased numbers of affordable housing. The key issues are planning, infrastructure, availability of affordable land and access to skilled workers. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government, the housing association sector, local authorities and other partners to find solutions to these challenges.”

Industry body Homes for Scotland said the headline statistics mask a decline in vital private sector output for 2015.

Chief executive Nicola Barclay said: “Whilst we welcome any increase in housing supply, these figures also indicate that both private sector-led starts and completions are down on the previous quarter and on the previous year. With Scotland’s growing population having a diverse range of housing needs and aspirations, it is crucial that we recognise that affordable housing delivery, by its very nature, only meets the needs and demands of a certain proportion of the population.

“A healthy private sector is also essential given the contribution it makes to providing homes for people at other stages of their housing journey, creating a vibrant housing ladder. So we must see an increase in supply across all tenures if we are to realise the far-reaching and full benefits that home building can bring all those living in our communities - be that social, economic or environmental.

“We therefore look forward to discussions with the new Cabinet Secretary and Minister responsible for housing on how this can be achieved.”

For the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) Scotland, the figures underline the severity of the challenge that the new Scottish Government faces if it is to tackle the country’s housing crisis.

Gordon Nelson, director for FMB Scotland, said: “Despite the Scottish Government’s favourable spin on (yesterday’s) housing stats, scratch the surface and there’s little to celebrate. According to these latest figures, total housing completions increased by 3 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014. Although this is indeed an increase, when you compare it to the growth in house building south of the border in England, which increased by 21 per cent over the same period, it pales by comparison.

“These figures demonstrate how far we are from building the number of homes that the country needs to tackle the housing crisis. House building output for 2015 is 9,000 units lower than it was in 2007, despite demand for homes soaring. That the number of housing starts in Scotland for the final quarter of 2015 was 12 per cent lower than in 2014 is particularly concerning. In light of this, the Government’s ambition to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2020 may be laudable, but risks losing sight of the wider picture, at a time where there is pressing need for more homes all of tenures. The Scottish Government has celebrated today’s figures based solely on exceeding their affordable housing figures, which suggests that they do not grasp the severity of the wider house building challenge.”

Mr Nelson added: “Now is the time for the Scottish Government to concentrate on what it can do to facilitate a renaissance in house building. There are thousands of families and individuals for whom home ownership is becoming an ever-more distant dream. For the high proportion of people who aren’t eligible for social housing, the spiralling costs of privately rented accommodation will pinch hard. It’s imperative that a real effort is made to tackle an erratic planning system that stymies development and to unblock a financial system in which major banks are reluctant to lend to SME house builders which are crucial to getting Scotland building again.”

Ed Monaghan, chief executive of Mactaggart & Mickel Group, added: “The statistics released by the Scottish Government today showing a year-on-year rise in new build completions highlight the continued progress being made by the industry to tackle Scotland’s housing problems.

“It’s positive news for the sector, particularly given the current uncertainty over the impending European Union referendum. I’m optimistic that we are on the right track to deliver on Homes for Scotland’s manifesto call for a 10 per cent year-on-year growth to address the backlog of demand.

“Hopefully the Scottish Government’s commitment to inject a £3bn investment into the industry to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes will assist us in continuing to improve the housing market in Scotland.”

Responding to the figures, Andy Wightman MSP, housing spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, highlighted the need to make all housing affordable.

House prices in Scotland increased 61 per cent between 2004 and 2014, while increasing rental costs have seen 210,000 Scots fall into poverty.

The MSP for Lothian said: “While I welcome the achievement of the Government’s target of affordable housebuilding, the wider crisis in housing cannot be ignored. Homes should be affordable for all, and we can see that young people face a double-whammy, struggling more than ever to afford to buy their first home, while enduring ever-increasing rents in the private sector.

“In this new session of Parliament I am determined that we find a new way to help everyone afford a home. We can build more houses, to a higher quality, by paying less for land. Councils should have the power to buy land for housing at ‘existing use value’.

“Greens will keep up the pressure on Ministers to pursue our idea of taxing Scotland’s 11,000 hectares of vacant and derelict land. This would raise millions for housebuilding and encourage development of new affordable homes.”

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