Scotland’s ever-worsening housing affordability crisis requires action from government to help build more homes – Tammy Swift-Adams
Strong demand for new homes means companies are running out of land and finding it hard to replenish it. Many local authorities have stalled the preparation of new plans until the newly reformed planning system is in place. Compounding this, the decision-making times for planning applications and other development consents are painfully slow, with the teams responsible for them under-resourced.
There are also wide-ranging challenges with the supply of materials and labour, resulting in significant price increases. As land costs also rise, such pressures are a threat to housing delivery of all tenures.
Not all barriers to housing delivery are easy to resolve, but ensuring policy is clear and achievable is something the Scottish government and local authorities do have good control over. However, there is real concern that any success in building more homes could be despite emerging policy, not because of it.
So why is there such a disconnect? And, with key documents like the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) and the new plan for Edinburgh being finalised for consultation, how could a public conversation about planning for housing be better framed?
In 2019, the Scottish government formalised a statutory ‘purpose’ for planning in Scotland – “to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interests”. Delivering more homes is categorically in the long-term public interest. It is the bedrock of tackling Scotland’s ever-worsening housing affordability crisis.
House price inflation in Scotland is a real issue, making housing affordability very challenging. Back in 2007, when the outlook on affordability was similarly worrying, the Scottish government published its Firm Foundations discussion paper, calling for a 40 per cent increase in housing delivery levels, from 25,000 homes a year to 35,000.
There is no equivalent plan as things stand today. The Scottish government’s latest housing paper, Housing to 2040, recognises the need for affordable home ownership and undertakes to “work with the development and construction industries to explore ways in which future sales volumes can be less volatile and the risks associated with housing development reduced so that prices become more affordable to those on moderate incomes”.
But it doesn’t articulate how this might be achieved in a way that is any different from the straightforward approach of setting a clear and ambitious target to build more homes.
NPF4 is the perfect policy vehicle for encouraging, harnessing and shaping the strong appetite for investment in home building that is managing to survive in Scotland despite the many obstacles thrown in its way. The Scottish government must clearly articulate what ‘delivering more’ looks like, or it will miss this vital opportunity to achieve the much-needed increase in housing delivery it says it supports.
Who will NPF4 end up helping the most? Those who want to get a foot on the housing ladder or a long-term secure place to call their own at the very least; or just those who oppose new homes being built, disadvantaging future generations?
National and local planning policy must set out clear ambitions for encouraging housing or the options for our young people and growing families will be limited for generations to come.
Tammy Swift-Adams is director of planning at Homes for Scotland
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.