We must challenge housebuilding myths if we want more homes and to boost the Scottish economy - Jane Wood

Homes for Scotland’s annual conference takes place tomorrow. While it will be our organisation’s tenth meeting, it will be my first.

Jane Wood
Jane Wood

As the new chief executive, I realise how privileged I am to be representing a sector which has such an important role to play in Scotland’s social wellbeing, economic success and transition to net zero. Only three months into my tenure, I am already inspired by the passion, determination and resilience of those in the sector.

However, I also now realise that the homebuilding industry suffers from perceptions which are a hindrance to it being able to deliver the full transformational economic and social impact it could deliver across our urban and rural communities. As well as missing out on the tens of thousands of much needed homes that would benefit our whole country, it is also stymieing hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in schools, community facilities, social housing and job creation.

Many myths sadly surround this critical and resilient sector which is fundamental to achieving the most basic of human rights. Homes for Scotland is working hard to dispel these.

The first fable I came across was the claim that vast swathes of rural landscape are being sacrificed for the building of homes. In fact, only 2.1% of land in Scotland is built upon, the lowest level in the UK. Prior to the pandemic, residential development was also the primary source for bringing vacant and derelict land back into use.

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Then there is the cliche of new homes being ‘rabbit hutch’ homes - a hackneyed phrase with no evidence. In fact, a data sample of our members has shown that new homes in Scotland are larger than the mean floor area of new homes in England and Wales at 96 square metres – this is 25% bigger than the commonly referred to figure of 76 square metres which itself has been traced back 40 years to 1983.

When we talk about home building we must recognise that this is a cross-tenure sector, serving both need and demand, with strong interdependencies between social and private housing delivery. Indeed, another member sample suggests that 30% of affordable housing is delivered by the private sector through developer contributions, with this rising to 90% when factoring in contracting.

Contrary to popular belief that home building is a get rich quick scheme, the fact is that it involves significant upfront costs and risks with long-term turnaround. It is also a complex, regulated process requiring the coming together of many different elements including local and national government policy to support it. Due to cost increases and delays arising from labour and material shortages compounding usual challenges associated with planning and wider consenting processes, it has never been harder to build the homes that Scotland needs.

This is at a time when we face a chronic shortage of homes, now running at a deficit of around 100,000 since 2007 alone. Given that home building in Scotland annually contributes £3.4 billion to the economy and supports 80,000 jobs, the prioritisation of building new homes seems obvious.

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While the sector has already made significant progress in delivering energy-efficient new homes over recent years, we acknowledge the need to go further with improved building standards to support the Scottish Government’s ambitious zero carbon targets by 2045. The role of new housing in the green economy cannot be underestimated – new homes are highly energy-efficient. They have already reduced carbon emission levels by 75% since 1990 base levels with further improvements to come, and are cheaper to run than older properties.

My ambition is to see home building recognised as the force for good that it is and to be welcomed in our communities. I will do this by focusing on the facts which are very compelling.

Jane Wood is the new chief executive of Homes for Scotland

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