Propertymark: Collaborative action vital to improving the rural housing picture

Propertymark: Collaborative action vital to improving the rural housing picture

Property membership body Propertymark argues that the Scottish Government should utilise empty homes, infrastructure and tourism experts to increase the number of homes in rural areas.

The Scottish Government has laid out its Action Plan for delivering 11,000 affordable homes in remote, rural and island areas by 2032 - a key part of its commitments under the Bute House Agreement. Minister for housing, Paul McLennan MSP, acknowledged the range of specific challenges for rural communities means there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and called on partners to work jointly to bring about change.

The Scottish Government confirmed it will introduce secondary legislation to enable councils to apply up to a 100% premium on council tax rates for second homes from April 2024.

Propertymark responded to the consultation on this issue in July 2023, expressing our members’ view that positive incentives would be more effective in bringing existing homes back into use, but more importantly that the main need is for new homes.

The plan identifies the importance of empowering councils to make the best use of the homes already in place. Particularly in areas popular with tourists where there has been a growing trend for short-term holiday lets and second homes.

Whilst tourism is a vital part of local economies, authorities need to have the ability to strike the best balance for their communities – which may mean limiting the number of short-term lets or second homes, acquiring properties for the affordable sector and bringing empty homes back into residential use.

Funding will continue for the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership which works with local authorities and private owners and has helped to return more than 9,000 homes to active use since 2010.

The Empty Homes Partnership has established empty homes services and a network of officers across Scotland, and the next aim is to develop a more strategic approach to bringing empty homes back into use and embed this within the Partnership and its delivery partners.

A key challenge in remote and rural areas is to provide enough affordable housing to prevent the depopulation of communities, and a relatively small number of new homes is likely to have a significant impact. However, more remote or challenging locations often result in higher upfront costs and therefore greater risk to developers in opening up new sites.

There is clear agreement that infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, is a key barrier to viable housing development. The demands placed on housing supply for uses other than as permanent homes are also key. The tourism sector is vital to many parts of rural Scotland, however, the level of demand from tourists and second homeowners can affect the availability as well as the affordability of housing for local communities.

Propertymark believes there is a need to ensure best use of existing homes, including empty properties, as well as balancing the demand for second homes and short term lets alongside the need for permanent homes.

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