We need an adult discussion of Scottish housing needs - David Alexander

David AlexanderDavid Alexander
David Alexander
Housing is an essential but complex part of the political process. It requires enormous funding and often has a timescale which goes beyond the traditional four-to-five-year terms of most governments.

The result is that it is often treated as the Cinderella of government departments with many promises made and few delivered.

After all, why would anyone commit billions of pounds to a housebuilding programme when, because of the timescales involved in property construction, it will probably be your political successor who takes all the credit.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Right at this moment the Scottish housing market is at a crossroads and serious issues need to be addressed and decisions made if we are not to experience major housing shortages in the coming years.


Social housing is at a crisis point with the number of Scots on the waiting list increasing by nearly 10,000 in the last year alone. The private rented sector is facing unprecedented demands for homes with hundreds of people applying for each property that comes on the market. House prices have risen considerably over the last two to three years making owner-occupation harder for many Scots than before.

All of this is constantly in flux of course with house prices likely to stabilise as mortgage rates remain higher than they have been for a decade but the underlying issue affecting the Scottish housing market is supply not meeting demand. Until this fundamental problem is addressed, we will continue to have enormous waiting lists, continue to have very high levels of demand in the private rented sector, and continue to have many tenants unable to find a suitable home to meet their work and lifestyle demands.

This is not a new problem but one which has been ignored by successive governments on both sides of the Border for decades. The numbers tell their own story. In 1993 37.5% of Scots lived in social housing; 7.0% rented privately; and 55.5% were owner occupied. By 2020 (the latest date for which there are statistics) 23.0% were living in social housing; 14.9% were in the private rented sector; and 58.2% were owner-occupiers.

In terms of actual numbers there were 822,000 social houses in 1993 and there are now 608,000 in 2020 which is a drop of 214,000. This is a reduction of 7,642 homes each year for the last 28 years.

Since the SNP came to power in 2007 there has been in increase of just 1,000 homes in the social sector.

What we need, therefore, is an adult discussion of Scottish housing needs for the next decade. We need planning permission to be freed up to allow more housing to be built in places where people want to live and where there is growing employment opportunities.

We need an enlarged programme of social housing to meet the pent-up demand which has built over the last decade or so to ensure there are enough affordable homes to house people in the places they want and need to live.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

We also need to maintain a healthy and vigorous private rented sector to ensure there are enough homes for those people coming to live and work in our country who don’t want to buy a house and are ineligible for social housing because their stay is temporary, and because they want to move around to work in different parts of the country.

What we need most of all of course is a serious debate involving every part of the housing sector in Scotland. The Scottish Government needs to engage with the housebuilders, the social housing sector, the universities, the landowners, the farmers, and the private rented sector to ensure we are creating a housing market which satisfies a diverse, and everchanging group of people living and working in Scotland. Whether we get this or not remains to be seen but doing nothing is not the answer.

David Alexander is CEO of DJ Alexander Scotland Ltd



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.