New housing supply still failing to meet demand – Heather Pearson

With so much demand for fresh housing supply in Scotland, it was encouraging to see the number of new build homes completed north of the Border reaching their highest total since 2008.

Heather Pearson is Head of Housing, Addleshaw Goddard
Heather Pearson is Head of Housing, Addleshaw Goddard

An 18 per cent increase on the previous year – 21,403 new build homes completed across all sectors – is a significant upswing by anyone’s yardstick.

The latest Quarterly Housing Statistics for Scotland, revealed late last year, found the equivalent of 3,210 more homes over the year ending June 2019, including increases in private sector (19 per cent or 2,610 homes) and housing association completions (20 per cent or 664 homes), though local authority completions fell by 64 homes (4 p[er cent).

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While we are heading in the right direction, there remains the ambitious Scottish Government target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 homes for social rent, by 2021, and the question must be asked – is the current level of delivery enough to meet that target?

Perhaps not, given that nearly 11,000 affordable homes were started in the period to September 2019. On the face of it, that might sound encouraging, but housing approvals for this tenure were actually down 2 per cent, or 177 homes, compared to the previous year.

It is worrying to see figures falling – albeit not markedly – when it should be a case of full steam ahead. There is also a concerning lack of discourse around increasing demand for housing suitable for older age, despite recognition of pent-up demand amid an increasingly ageing population.

The recent passing of legislation formally establishing a Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) is set to be useful in supporting the country’s social housing drive. Nevertheless, an alternative resource is required in order to maintain those housing ambitions. What is the long-term impact going to be if that SNIB resource is not in place?

Furthermore, while the Scottish Government is consulting on its Housing to 2040 Vision, with the consultation closing at the end of this month, there is currently no plan in place for the immediate future post-2021.

Against this backdrop, there is a very real prospect of the hard work and significant momentum accrued so far being squandered. A fresh government commitment must therefore be made – but that is only part of the picture.

Partly, it is about ensuring that housing targets will continue to feature in government policy. Fundamentally though, it is about everybody pulling in the same direction – creating jobs, investing in communities, and realising collective goals.

Unfortunately, there are challenges in meeting the current targets – not least caused by the lack of suitable land and the necessary infrastructure constraints – but also by delays in the consenting process for new build development and a lack of consistency across local authorities.

As long as demand continues to far outstrip supply – particularly where social and private rented housing is concerned – and we do not have the right mechanisms in place to produce much-needed homes at volume, Scotland will remain at a disadvantage when it comes to realising its sizeable ambitions.

We also need policy clarity for what lies beyond 2021 for the housing sector across all tenures – affordable, private rented, and private owner occupier – in terms of the government’s future funding intentions.

An 18 per cent rise in new build figures must, of course, be welcomed, but there remains a fragility to the housing market. There exists a significant gap between ambition and delivery that is yet to be bridged.

Positive action paired with innovative leadership, greater resources, and a more collaborative approach can yet realise both the 50,000 target and those beyond, while helping to bridge that gap – but we need to act now.

Heather Pearson is head of housing, Addleshaw Goddard