Scotland's housing crisis means we must build on greenfield sites – Gary Smith

There is latent support for housebuilding among young people struggling to get on the housing ladder who are Yimbys rather than Nimbys, says Gary Smith of Hallam Land Management

As we all know, we are in the midst of a general election year where politicians of all parties pledge their support to the housebuilding industry, often citing the many benefits the sector delivers to the British economy. However, that narrative is often very different to what is happening on the ground. We need courageous politicians to take bold decisions, to avert the worsening of the current housing crisis.

Scotland has sleepwalked into a national housing crisis. In real terms, the country has a national multi-tenure housing shortage of 550,000 homes. Further recent analysis carried out by Homes for Scotland concluded that the real housing need is even higher, at 693,000, once those who can make in-situ repairs and adaptions are taken into account. This in-depth analysis takes into consideration those who haven’t been included in the Scottish Government’s assessment to date, such as those living at home with their parents, and paints a picture of the country’s real housing need.

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Whilst the next Scottish Parliament election isn’t for another two years and whoever wins then is going to inherit a growing housing crisis, it’s crucial that something is done about it in the short term, in terms of planning policy and with a focus on actual delivery. That will mean both brownfield and greenfield development is going to be required to solve the problem, and both private, open-market housing and affordable housing is needed, with the private money cross-funding the delivery of a proportion of the affordable homes.

Building new homes is essential to meet the demand for housing (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)Building new homes is essential to meet the demand for housing (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)
Building new homes is essential to meet the demand for housing (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Tories protecting the greenbelt

As a sector, housebuilding is more than bricks and mortar, it’s new job creation, new inward investment, additional council tax revenue for local authorities and, of course, the housing that Scotland seriously needs. On the subject of employment, how many significant government job announcements are there without the requisite change in policy position on housing or alteration to the local development plan? How many economic strategies of local authorities are actually tied in to the delivery of new housing given that the two should go hand in hand?

The current Conservative party government is more ‘Nimby’ than ‘Yimby’ (Yes In My Back Yard) and have accused the official opposition of wanting to “concrete the greenbelt” whereas they want to “protect the greenbelt”. I welcome the UK Labour party’s initial approach to supporting the “builders and not the blockers” but soundbites aside Scotland is quickly becoming a case in point of what happens when key sectors are given far less priority than they should.

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National Planning Framework 4, adopted in February 2023, will fail to deliver the housing needs of Scotland and is an ‘eco-populist’ approach to housing delivery. Yes, brownfield first, but it cannot be an absolute – sustainable greenfield extensions to settlements must also be considered, especially where population and infrastructure can be accommodated whilst utilising new and innovative methods of viable energy and heat production. Furthermore, these should be prioritised over remote brownfield locations.

A crisis requires a solution

The lack of ambition for and support of housing delivery is all too evident across Scotland and it is visible on a daily basis. Walk down any high street and you will see homelessness on a scale that has never been seen before. Councils across Scotland are clearly underfunded, under-supported and have a lack of capacity. This lack of capacity has a significant impact on planning services and other key departments, and yet it is expected that local councils act alone to solve the current housing crisis. All of this against a backdrop of a 26 per cent reduction in Scotland’s affordable housing budget.

Most notably, Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Glasgow and most recently Fife Council have declared a local housing crisis, yet the prevailing narrative would suggest housing completions and new site starts are at an all-time high. The reality is very different.

Any crisis requires a solution, but something that is deemed an emergency requires immediate action to address the here and now and not after the next Scottish Parliament election which takes place in 2026. Where the development industry could assist is in providing the information and research which shows that building more houses, of all tenures, is required to address the problem.

Much to shout about

Increasing supply of private housing allows people to buy themselves out of need as opportunities for appropriately sized housing become available locally. In addition, the industry needs to shout from the rooftops about how much it contributes in value to infrastructure improvements every year – this runs into the hundreds of millions.

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The evidence is out there, but the industry is poor about selling its achievements and often looks inward for self-praise, rather than promoting the opportunities and community wealth creation that housebuilding brings to an area. Look beyond the soundbites and social media commentary of the objectors, and there is much to shout about. We should let communities change and reap the opportunities and benefits that come with that.

If we wait any longer, then the situation will only get worse and, particularly for any politician reading this article, please bear in mind these issues when next talking to a young person who can’t get onto the property ladder. Let’s listen to the young people who cannot get a new home – a basic fundamental human need – think of the memories created by any young family in their first family home, and look beyond the next political cycle. There is a latent support for housebuilding amongst the younger population in the Yimby movement and they are the ones who can make the politicians listen and take bold decisions.

Gary Smith, Hallam Land Management



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