Housing must become Holyrood’s focus

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How does Alex Salmond  know Scots want a “power-house” parliament? Probably most think it would make no improvements to their lives.

Looking at other, even rich, countries whose governments have “full” powers, supports this view.

In Australia, for example, despite its huge natural ­resources and there having been no economic downturn or banking crisis, the government has greatly reduced benefits and imposed charges for doctors’ visits. There is a housing “bubble”, with many ­unable to afford homes within reasonable distance of their jobs. There are thus lengthy “commutes,” congestion with over-crowded trains and buses in urban areas and very few at all elsewhere.

The most pressing problem in Scotland is surely lack of homes. Households with ­average incomes cannot ­afford ones at average prices.

Levels of building are about 50 per cent of official targets and the lowest for many ­decades.

Under the SNP Government the amount of “social” housing provided annually has been about one-third of that built in Scotland under (London-based) Conservative governments in the Sixties. Yet powers over housing rest entirely with Holyrood.

None of its parties have shown any innovative thinking on the issue. Merely designating large areas of land for homes does not mean they will be built.

Since housing has huge implications for health, education and social equity, this is astounding. So is the fact that it was scarcely mentioned in the referendum campaign. Yet, like creation of jobs, it is not heavily dependent on ­external forces. Huge numbers of homes were built during the depression of the Thirties. Surveys show that about 25 per cent of those seeking homes would like to build their own, as is the norm in many countries. But they cannot obtain suitable land at ­affordable prices, if any at all.

However many homes commercial firms and housing ­associations may supply, it will not be more than 75 per cent of the total needed.

Taxing land values would greatly help meet housing needs. Both the SNP and the Lib Dems used to favour this but now want “local” income taxes, which would do nothing to increase supply of land or lower values. Nor would it encourage more people to move to smaller homes and so reduce the problem of under-occupation.

Instead of pushing for more powers the “Holyrood Establishment” should better use the ones it already has. The many young people who involved themselves in politics for the first time should focus on getting Holyrood to ­address their needs/aspirations by doing this.

If their elders really care, as they claim to, they will support them also.

Walter Markham

Atholl Road