Graeme Downie: Long-term thinking needed in housing ‘crisis’

Housebuilders point out that they need planning permission in areas people want to live to make it economically viable. Picture: Alan Watson
Housebuilders point out that they need planning permission in areas people want to live to make it economically viable. Picture: Alan Watson
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Beware political posturing in the bid to find a solution to a major problem, writes Graeme Downie

Housing is being set up as one of the key election issues in Scotland, as it should. There are not enough homes in Scotland and the situation can safely be described as a “crisis”.

Housebuilders point out that they need planning permission in areas people want to live to make it economically viable to build new homes, but local authorities are struggling to grant permission due to the desired land being in a green belt or because of community opposition. Charities argue for more affordable housing and private landlords point out that they are able to provide high-quality homes but feel they are being demonised, with many likely to scale back investment as a result.

Instead of presenting a reasonable plan for the long term, the SNP and Scottish Labour have engaged in a game of chicken with the numbers. At its conference in October, Labour called for 12,000 affordable homes a year. The SNP, meanwhile, has pledged 50,000 affordable homes. This seems to imply there is a silver bullet solution. It ignores the need to build mid-level homes to incentivise upgrading which would free up entry homes and reduce prices lower down the scale. There also doesn’t seem to be any detail about where these new homes should be built, or how they will be paid for.

There have been some attempts at a long-term policy on these issues, particularly in the excellent report produced by the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing, chaired by former Auditor-General, Bob Black. That examined the huge costs to the public purse through poor health and social problems that will result if action is not taken. Sadly, it seems like political posturing will reign for the time being but voters are smart enough to know when politicians are simply outbidding each other rather seeking a proper solution.

• Graeme Downie is a director of Edinburgh-based communications company Orbit Communications