SNP-Green deal could be catastrophic for house prices – John McLellan

Without over-generalising about The Scotsman’s audience, from memory I’m prepared to wager over half of you are reading this from the comfort of an old house.

Scottish Greens co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, seen visiting a new solar farm Edinburgh University's Easter Bush Campus, could become ministers if party members agree to a co-operation deal with SNP (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Scottish Greens co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, seen visiting a new solar farm Edinburgh University's Easter Bush Campus, could become ministers if party members agree to a co-operation deal with SNP (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

Maybe a Bruntsfield tenement flat, a Victorian semi in Trinity, a neat Borders or East Neuk bolthole, but with inefficient solid walls, draughty doors and windows. Some will have bright skylights above the stairwell through which your central heating can warm the world outside. And having followed the advice of successive TV chefs, it’s likely you’ll have a dual-fuel cooker with electric oven and gas hob.

As this column pointed out last week, the 2019 Scottish government house condition survey indicates Scotland has around 750,000 pre-1945 homes and, as the autumn draws near, their occupants will try not to dwell upon the winter fuel bills to come, while accepting that some warmth escaping through the walls is inevitable. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if it helps keep dampness at bay.

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Perhaps I’m describing our Victorian house a little too closely, but you get the point; the price of living with the period charm of an old home is a never-ending battle against the elements and deterioration.

With housing responsible for a fifth of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions, upgrading the stock is at the heart of the new SNP-Green partnership deal unveiled last week, which outlines plans for mandatory requirements for all domestic upgrades and refurbishments to qualify for an energy performance certificate (EPC) C rating, the third highest, from 2025.

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That might be possible if costly, and a consultation is to be launched next year. But that’s not the half of it because another commitment should have the fire, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms ringing off the wall.

“As a backstop, and to ensure we meet our climate targets,” it says, “we will require all homes to be upgraded by 2033.” All homes to be upgraded to EPC C standard within 12 years? Apart from the cost being astronomical – an extrapolation of an estimate in a UK Parliament report this year would put the Scottish bill at around £25bn – recent research by Rightmove into the energy efficiency ratings of 15 million homes in England and Wales found that not only were 59 per cent of them rated D or below, but that 11 per cent would never get to C.

With some 2.6 million homes in Scotland in 2019, the same result here would mean around 280,000 householders would be living in dwellings incapable of reaching a legally enforceable requirement set by the SNP-Green government. With the average Scottish house price now £194,000, that could be £54bn of housing rendered virtually worthless.

The agreement document talks briefly about “upscaled grants” but even if you qualified for financial assistance, if your house can’t reach the standard it won’t matter how much you spend on it because the effect of such a law would be to make it unsaleable.

At a stroke it would wipe out the biggest asset most people have and destroy the chances of a comfortable retirement for thousands because downsizing would become impossible.

Self-interest maybe, but that’s probably where my family and I, and thousands like us, would find ourselves. OK, so not everyone living in an old property is the owner, and no doubt the SNP will brush all this off as scaremongering and insist it will all be sorted by the consultation, but the intention is there in black and white without any caveats.

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Maybe it’s a disposable throwaway line to seal a deal with a party obsessed with zero carbon but with zero interest in economic well-being. However, as described, the policy has the potential to bring financial catastrophe to hundreds of thousands of Scots and do far more damage to their lives than climate change ever will.

The UK government wants all houses to be net zero by 2050 and also has specific EPC C standard targets which the housing industry believes are undeliverable, but its aim is for all social housing to make the C grade by 2035, not all houses no matter what. And apart from the expense imposed on those people living in homes which could make the grade, taking £54bn out the housing market could smash prices across the board.

But undermining home-ownership is the reality of a class war subtext which underpins everything the new Greens and their Extinction Rebellion outriders do, and the SNP has just bought into it.

This is the backdrop against which the new alliance hopes to persuade a majority to support independence in a referendum within the next four years, the deal’s real purpose. Whether a referendum ever takes place is another thing entirely; the Green pact takes the SNP further away from the day-to-day lives and concerns of working people, and it will become increasingly difficult for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to nudge up support for independence to the point where she feels confident enough to take the plunge and try to force Westminster’s hand.

The problem was illustrated by her economic adviser Andrew Wilson this week who pointed out that rushing to launch a new Scottish currency and abandoning the security of the Bank of England would result in capital flight, from international investors down to individuals squirrelling away what would be left of their sterling savings in English banks and workers demanding to be paid in English pounds.

His intervention was necessary because this is the preference of the Greens leadership duo who support an immediate move towards a new currency following a Yes vote because according to Lorna Slater, an independent currency means limitless money. Like the Venezuelan bolivar or Weimar papiermark, perhaps.

Despite the SNP-Green deal’s over-blown rhetoric of a fairer and better Scotland, the demands it makes point instead to ruin. The Greens have little to lose, but you can bet your house the SNP will gain nothing. Whatever it’s worth.

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John McLellan in an Edinburgh Conservative councillor

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