Empty and second homes causing housing crisis

The proportion of empty homes in Scotland has risen, according to new report by the Greens which finds that Edinburgh has the highest number of vacant properties.

The report quotes National Records of Scotland figures suggesting that there are almost 80,000 empty homes in Scotland. Picture: John Devlin

The study has also identified holiday home hotspots, with the Highlands having the most, while almost of half of properties in Elie and Earlsferry on the East Neuk of Fife are second homes.

Compiled by Green MSP Andy Wightman, the report said there are now more than 100,000 empty or under-used houses in Scotland and called for action from the Scottish Government to relieve the housing crisis. The report quotes National Records of Scotland figures suggesting that there are almost 80,000 empty homes in Scotland, plus more than 25,000 properties that are used as second homes.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Since 2007, the proportion of homes lying empty in Scotland has risen from 2.76 per cent to 3.05 per cent.

Since 2012 the number of second homes has fallen from 38,249 to 25,713, but Mr Wightman claimed the reduction had been offset by a rapid rise in short-term letting.

His report also noted that second homes now account for almost 50 per cent of properties in some areas, citing the affluent holiday resort of Elie and Earlsferry. According to the report, 422 our of 937 dwellings are second homes – the equivalent of 45 per cent.

Edinburgh City Council area had the most empty homes with 7,827, followed by Glasgow City Council with 7,537.

The Highlands had the most second properties with 3,989, followed by Argyll and Bute (3,252) and Edinburgh (3,215).

When smaller areas within individual councils were examined, the report found the five neighbourhoods with the largest number of empty homes were in deprived areas. They were: Toryglen and Carnwadric in Glasgow, Clydebank and Kildrum in North Lanarkshire and Port Glasgow in Inverclyde.

The report also revealed that Freedom of Information requests to Scotland’s 32 councils show that only two-thirds employ an empty homes officer to tackle the problem.

Mr Wightman said the rising number of empty homes was “incredulous” and called for a range of measures to put them to use.

He said councils ought to be given compulsory purchase powers to bring empty houses and vacant land into use.

He also called for an end to the “tax loophole” that allows second home owners to avoid council tax by listing the property as a business. Councils should be able to control the spread of second homes and short-term lets by making them subject to planning and a consent for change of use.

He said: “The Scottish Government has long overlooked the issue of empty homes and there’s a risk that its response will be too little, too late. Second homes remain a blight in many communities and inflating house prices beyond the reach of local ­people.”

Homeless Action Scotland chief executive Gavin Yates said: “Giving councils the power to compulsory purchase vacant housing and land as advocated by Mr Wightman has merit, but local authorities would then need significant investment to ensure that any resulting homes were both properly habitable and most significantly genuinely affordable.

“Crucially, Scotland needs a long-term housing strategy with buy-in from all political parties forming a 30-year consensus to ensure that there is a much greater supply of genuinely affordable homes.”

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “New powers introduced in 2013 allow local authorities to apply a council tax levy on long-term empty properties to encourage private owners to bring them back into use.

“We have doubled support for the work of Scotland’s Empty Homes Partnership since 2010, which has now brought over 2,800 homes across Scotland back into use.

“Local authorities already have wide-ranging compulsory purchase powers which can be used to bring empty homes and vacant land back into ­positive use. In addition we have committed to introducing legislation within the term of this Parliament to provide authorities with a new power to promote compulsory sale orders to tackle the blight of abandoned buildings.”