Leader comment: The dream of home ownership must not die

Ferguslie Park in Paisley, one of the most deprived areas of Scotland, has many empty houses  (Picture: John Devlin)
Ferguslie Park in Paisley, one of the most deprived areas of Scotland, has many empty houses (Picture: John Devlin)
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The housing crisis requires action to enable more people to buy their own home, but forcing people to sell empty properties would be a Draconian step.

The inability of a generation of young people to get on the housing ladder has proved to be one of the issues of our times. The sluggish state of the economy and years of austerity have seen wages remain depressingly low for many people, while the supply of houses for sale has failed to meet demand.

Across the political spectrum, there is a recognition that first-time buyers in particular need help to buy a home of their own and that more houses must be built in many parts of Scotland. The number of empty houses has also been raised as a contributory factor and it’s a fairly obvious point to make. A house is designed to be a home for people; if it is empty, it is not fulfilling its purpose.

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As The Scotsman reports today, a new report by the Scottish Greens has found the number of empty homes in Scotland has gone up since 2007 to nearly 80,000. The report also highlighted more than 25,000 properties used as second homes.

The Green MSP Andy Wightman called for councils to be given powers to issue compulsory purchase orders for empty houses and also vacant land. However, giving councils, or any arm of government, the power to be able to force people to sell their own property – whether it’s bricks and mortar or any other kind – would be a Draconian move. Having a second home is something many of us aspire to or enjoy having.

But the fact that such calls are being made shows the strength of feeling about what has been rightly called a crisis. The right-to-buy council houses introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s government was an attempt to create a home-owning society and, for many, it is an important part of the ‘British Dream’.

Those facing the prospect of a life without ever owning a property may find it hard to feel any sympathy for those with a house in the country and a flat in the town in the event of a government being elected that is prepared to force people to sell up.

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So, if they haven’t already, politicians of all colours need to sense the growing anger at the lack of housing. Helping developers to build more affordable homes and speeding up the planning process are both sensible measures. It might even be time to investigate policies designed to persuade owners of empty houses to sell.

But compelling people to do so would be a step too far.