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Affordable Rented Housing
Trish Godman (Labour)
The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2911, in the name of John Home Robertson, on affordable rented housing. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament is concerned about the shortage of affordable rented housing in East Lothian and many communities and the fact that some applicants in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation can be stuck on waiting lists for years, while others may be compelled to buy or rent housing that they cannot afford; suggests that there is a need for a clearer definition of affordability for the purposes of housing policy; welcomes initiatives by the Scottish Executive to help councils and registered social landlords to increase the supply of affordable housing, including prudential borrowing to fund new building; recognises that the high cost of development land is hindering that policy, and believes that there is a case for further measures to help local authorities to acquire and secure land for affordable housing in the Executive's proposed Planning Bill.
John Home Robertson (Labour)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the serious and deteriorating housing crisis that exists in many parts of Scotland. I am particularly grateful to 45 parliamentary colleagues from the Labour, Scottish National Party, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and independent groups, and indeed from every part of Scotland, who signed the motion.
I said that there is a housing crisis in many parts of Scotland, and I put it to the minister that that is no exaggeration. I ask him specifically to consider the situation in my constituency. The population in East Lothian is growing, so there is a strong demand for housing. It is a seller's market: local people and incomers have to pay high prices, big mortgages or hefty rents for private housing. The stock of council and housing association housing is down to just 10,100 houses and flats, and that stock fell by another 280 last year under the right-to-buy scheme.
Fewer and fewer houses are becoming available to let. There were just 350 tenancies to allocate this year, 70 per cent of which have to go to people who are statutorily homeless. There are fewer than 100 houses to let each year for more than 7,000 applicants who are stuck on the waiting list in my constituency. Some towns get only a handful of re-lets each year, and in some villages years can go by with no allocations to people on the waiting list. Faced with a waiting time of 10 years, families are often forced to make a choice between moving away from their communities or
Those who are statutorily homeless are not the only ones with urgent housing needs. People on waiting lists include young families living in outrageously overcrowded circumstances with their parents, older people who need ground-floor accommodation, and single people with urgent needs.
Alex Fergusson (Conservative)
Does John Home Robertson agree with Dumfries and Galloway Council's housing strategists that the Executive's proposal to abolish the priority needs test for homelessness in 2012 will lead to a situation in 2017 in which more than 90 per cent of all vacancies will be filled by referrals under section 5 of the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003? That will simply increase the problems to which the member draws attention.
John Home Robertson (Labour)
That is precisely the point that needs to be exaggerated. The problem will get worse before it goes away.
At present, there is just no hope for people on the waiting list unless they are priority homeless. Sometimes, the only way out of the trap is the degrading and traumatic process of going homeless, whereby families have to be put out of their parents' homes so that they can be housed as homeless people. That is unfair and uncivilised.
The Executive has taken steps to speed up the allocation of housing for statutorily homeless people but, sadly, that has made matters worse for other people whose needs may be almost as urgent—Alex Fergusson just made that point. Concentrating on statutory homelessness is like trying to get rid of the tip of an iceberg—it will not work, because the underlying problem is still there. We must do more to meet the need for affordable housing.
Incidentally, I am worried about the lack of a clear definition of affordability. We all know of examples of houses that are nominally in the social rented sector, but for which the tenancy is entirely dependent on eligibility for housing benefit. If the tenant gets a job, he can no longer afford the rent. The Executive could usefully address that point by setting a formula with a direct link to the national minimum wage.
I welcome the fact that the Executive has taken some important steps to promote affordable rented housing. The amended right to buy for new lets will protect part of the remaining stock. Consent for prudential borrowing could allow some councils to borrow to invest in more housing to let. In March, the Executive issued planning advice note 74, on affordable housing, with a commendable
Those are important steps, but we need a lot of sites. The Lothian housing needs assessment identified a requirement for more than 2,000 affordable houses for East Lothian in the next five years. The council and the housing associations are ready and willing to rise to that challenge. They have negotiated a package with a builder to construct houses for £66,000 each, but they cannot get any land on which to build the houses, because virtually every potential site that is adjacent to towns and villages in East Lothian is either owned by a developer or subject to an option to buy.
Farmland with an existing use value of about £2,000 an acre goes up to as much as £750,000 an acre as soon as it is zoned for housing. On the basis of 40 units per acre for lower cost housing, that is about £20,000 a site for the land. Add that to the cost of servicing the site and building the house, and the total is a capital cost of more than £100,000, which means a rent that will probably not be affordable.
PAN 74 cites heartwarming examples of developers co-operating with councils to provide affordable housing, but our experience in East Lothian is that developers will not release land to the council or to housing associations, even at £20,000 a site. They seem to be content to sit on their land in the hope that they will eventually get permission to build high-cost, high-profit houses for sale. I am afraid that that experience indicates that PAN 74 is insufficient to unlock the door to meet the need for rented housing.
The problem is that our planning legislation fails to make an effective distinction between land for affordable rented houses and land for executive villas—it is all zoned as land for housing—so the temptation remains for developers to procrastinate and hold out for the highest potential value of housing land; I suppose that that is in their nature. I propose that we remove that temptation by making a new statutory land use classification for affordable housing. That would enable local planning authorities to designate sites or parts of sites for affordable housing. Apart from removing any doubt about the nature of development that would be permitted on such sites, it should establish an affordable value for affordable land for affordable housing. I could go further and talk about a power of compulsory purchase, but I do not think that that is necessary, because we could achieve the aim by making the change that I propose to the planning system. Land use classification is a planning issue, so I ask the minister to take the opportunity that will be afforded by the new planning bill to address this urgent need in this session of Parliament.
I hope that the debate will confirm the urgent need for action to increase the supply of affordable rented housing throughout Scotland. I have asked the minister to consider the need for a definition of affordability with a link to the national minimum wage, but my urgent request is that we create a new land use classification for affordable housing in the planning bill to unlock the supply of land that is desperately needed in constituencies such as mine.
Christine Grahame (Scottish National Party)
I congratulate John Home Robertson on securing the debate and on making a very informed speech. I have heard his previous remarks on the subject and I am aware of East Lothian's problems; indeed, at one point, the council had to buy back ex-council homes at substantial cost to meet its legislative obligations. I believe that that takes us to the heart of the matter. The sale of council houses has caused an enormous problem in Scotland, especially in some of our picturesque areas. Houses were purchased not only by residents in the area but as second homes, which meant that they were removed completely from the housing stock.
The SNP believes that we should end the right to buy for new tenancies—I make it clear that we are talking about new, not existing, tenancies. I appreciate that the Executive has deferred the matter until 2012, but we must grasp the nettle now. Why should housing associations or local authorities buy houses while this sword of Damocles hangs over them? They will not spend that money on properties if they know that they will lose them in due course.
The circumstances in which people find themselves cause particular difficulties in rural areas. For example, if a couple separates, both people might require rented accommodation. One of them might then find themselves homeless, but the only housing association property that is available might be 50 or 60 miles away from where their children attend school. The large distances between rural communities can give rise to such huge issues.
We require a culture change. In a sense, the culture has changed because of the high price of first-time-buyer properties. Although the SNP believes that a £2,000 first-time-buyer grant should be introduced, I do not think that that alone will solve the problem. People used to earn kudos for owning their homes, but home owning has now become a necessity because, with nothing available in the social rented sector, mortgage payments are sometimes cheaper than the extortionate sums that can be charged for private rented accommodation.
That situation has a knock-on effect for couples because, if they do not have secure accommodation, they can defer having children for a considerable time. When I first married, couples started out in a council house. They were able to save a little money, put a deposit down on a very modest house and go on from there. The ability to do that has been lost to this generation. I am sure that that is linked to the decline in our population, and that it ripples out to other areas. For example, who will provide the tax receipts that will pay for services for the rest of society? This is not just a housing issue but a huge social problem.
I completely concur with John Home Robertson's point about land banks. The prospect that, for example, a railway might be constructed has led developers, particularly in some areas of the Borders, to build up the amount of land that they have—and they will certainly not allow anyone to develop it until the railway comes.
We must consider the role of Scottish Water, because funding is required to develop the infrastructure in certain areas. In the Borders—some areas of Peebles, for example, and in Lauder, although I think that the situation there is all right now—any further development was embargoed simply because sewerage systems could not be put in. Indeed, the same problem meant that not one more house could be built in the whole of Perth.
I end my speech by highlighting a typical case. A letter that I received says:
"Dear Christine Grahame
I'm writing to you as I don't know what to do! The problem is my daughter ... and her partner ... and their three year old son ... live in a one bedroom flat. My grandson can't even have his own bed as there is no-where to put it.
They have been down time and time again to the"
"but they are getting nowhere. Can you give some advice on what to do."
The problem is that very little can be done. As John Home Robertson pointed out, homeless people—quite rightly—always get properties ahead of these people. Such a situation cannot be good for that family or that child.
Sarah Boyack (Labour)
I congratulate John Home Robertson on securing the debate and thus enabling us to discuss the subject in Parliament. I strongly support his emphasis on the planning system. The debate is important not just in East Lothian, but across all of rural and urban Scotland.
Some of the most heart-rending visits that I receive from constituents centre on the lack of affordable housing and on people's sense of powerlessness and of being trapped in inappropriate properties with inappropriate neighbours. However, neither I nor the local council can solve the problem with a simple fix. Members have already mentioned young couples who want to start families. I should point out that older people who need a ground-floor property can also wait years to get one and, when they do, it is unlikely to be located where they currently live. They are most likely to be forced out of decent areas where they have lived for the past 30 or 40 years. I have heard from nurses, national health service staff, shop workers and bus drivers. In fact most working people in Edinburgh cannot afford regular house prices—£90,000 for a one-bedroom flat in Gorgie tells us what a problem we have. Virtually no three-bedroom properties in the city are available for families. There is huge competition and very few appropriate houses are available.
Many of the antisocial behaviour problems that people bring to our door are exacerbated by the lack of options for where councils put people to ensure that we get the right housing mix. The problem is huge and is worsening all the time.
The cost of land is a key part of the problem. If the public sector puts land on the market, it has to accept the district valuer's estimate, which means that it will be used for private housing for sale. The response of the City of Edinburgh Council is to require that on all sites of a certain size—if there are to be 25 to 40 units—25 per cent must be sold as affordable housing. That means that there are tortuous site-by-site negotiations and that there is less scope for other community benefits to be drawn out of sites. It is slowing down the rate of development in the city and what is worse is that it means that often the affordable rented housing is built at the end of the project in the last phase of development. That is the case with the waterfront development.
I agree with the City of Edinburgh Council that we need regulation and partnership with the private sector if we are to have the affordable housing that our constituents need. The land use planning system is a vital part of that process. We need sites allocated specifically for affordable housing and we must be able to apportion a proportion of bigger sites. We need mixed developments because they are desirable, but not every site will be big enough to accommodate such developments. We need to change the rules so that capital receipts do not force councils down the route of having to allocate sites that are inappropriate for private housing.
I ask the minister to consider the matter. If we
I agree with John Home Robertson that we need to ensure that councils have a range of options. I do not think that merely considering the planning system will solve the problem, but it will help. I return to the point that when the cheapest one-bedroom flat in Gorgie is £90,000, who will be able to afford the £250,000 new build in the city? We need a mix of options—private rented, public sector rented and private for sale. Private houses for sale have to be affordable as well. If we do not change the planning system, we will not give councils enough tools to tackle the problem. I support John Home Robertson in his bid.
Murray Tosh (Conservative)
A couple of weeks ago I had the temerity to ask the minister about some of the issues that John Home Robertson has raised. The minister, who I can only assume was having a bad day, gave me a most dismissive response and said, in effect, that the publication of planning advice note 74 on land for affordable housing had taken care of the concerns that I was expressing.
PAN 74 does indeed allow councils to zone land for affordable housing, but if only it were that simple. The advice note is new and current structure plans and local plans do not generally allocate land for affordable housing. The only new example that I know of is the new Argyll and Bute Council local plan, which allocates a substantial search area to the east of Helensburgh for affordable housing—a town that has many of the characteristics of towns in East Lothian. No one can say what the result of allocating that land will be, because all the land there has a certain hope value for its owners. I suspect that that hope value will be increased by the zoning for affordable housing.
The minister might find it instructive to ask his officials why existing plans do not identify land for
The minister could close down some of those routes. He could make it clear that land that is zoned for affordable housing could not reasonably be developed principally by private housing with an affordable component, and that it would not be reasonable to develop in that category what is, in effect, a private-housing development using support from the grant for owner-occupation scheme to subsidise the initial occupiers. However, until statements such as that are made and are justified by local plan inquiries and by the caseload of appeals, no one will believe that land that is zoned for affordable housing is secure for that purpose.
Even if the minister can give such satisfactory statements and the caseload of appeals eventually demonstrates that land is safely zoned, the minister must surely grasp a further perspective: once land is zoned for affordable housing and is put into that use class, any owner with half a brain will know that when next there is a greenfield land release—whether two or 20 years down the road—the land that has been zoned for housing for one purpose is the land that is most likely to be rezoned for the other purpose. That land, therefore, will have a very substantial hope value, which is why it is impossible to conceive of councils acquiring land for housing associations or housing associations acquiring it directly.
In places such as East Lothian, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, the northern parts of North Ayrshire and South Ayrshire, Helensburgh, Aberdeenshire, communities the length and breadth of the land and in pockets in most council areas, land will simply not be affordable. The Communities Scotland regime does not fund to an extent that allows acquisition of sites in direct competition with the private sector. That is the reality of life in pressured markets.
The minister is a decent man and I know that he goes out into the community and talks to housing associations and providers all the time. However, when will he listen to them when they tell him that his targets are unattainable and that the steps that he has taken are not adequate to deliver the land supply that his own ambitions make necessary?
There are things that he can do and measures that he can take. I hope that, in the planning bill and the revised policy notes that will follow it, he will take the opportunity of making those further steps.
Des McNulty (Labour)
I congratulate John Home Robertson on securing the debate and on highlighting some of the issues that affect not only East Lothian, but other areas, such as East Dunbartonshire, which I represent part of.
I remind the minister that his formal designation is the Minister for Communities. That involves a range of components—he is also responsible for planning, housing, equalities and so on—which have to be fused together in him in a way that will benefit communities. He obviously has an across-Scotland responsibility, but today we are focusing on communities in which there are high market rates that make it difficult to get hold of land and housing. If we do not address the problems of people in such communities, some of those people will be forced out of their communities.
In Bearsden and Milngavie, it is difficult for someone who works in a shop or post office, drives a van or even teaches in a school to find housing. Nurses, hospital porters and people in a range of occupational groups cannot live there because they do not earn enough. That situation is fundamentally unacceptable. We do not want to create ghettoes of better-off people and people from an older generation who are able to afford to live in a particular place while the younger people—often the children of that generation or the people who provide the services that underpin those communities—are forced to live elsewhere.
The minister has to look across the range of his responsibilities. He has to examine the new planning legislation and the strategies in his housing approach and equalities strategies, some of which are delivering perverse results. In Bearsden and Milngavie, it is not acceptable that a person has practically to be homeless to get rented accommodation. That was not an anticipated consequence of legislation, but it has been its practical effect.
That is happening not just in areas such as Bearsden and Milngavie, but in other areas. East Kilbride will be close to that situation soon and in parts of Edinburgh it will soon be difficult to get accommodation unless one is homeless. That was never the intention of the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 or, indeed, of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. Parliament wanted to protect the rights of homeless people against disadvantage—it did not want to take away the
The minister has to reconsider legislation that the Scottish Parliament has passed. He has also to look at future legislation and at the procedures that he has put in place to deliver a fairer outcome for everybody, because that is something that we do not have at present.
Mr Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat)
I warmly congratulate John Home Robertson on bringing forward the debate on a courageous and, more important, timely motion. Each of us who has been a councillor or who is an MSP knows that the housing situation has worsened over the years; it has worsened considerably since I was first elected as a councillor in 1986.
Earlier today, I was talking to a friend who is a community councillor from the village of Castletown, just outside Thurso. He said that the problem is that local authorities do not build houses these days. As other members have said, when a house comes on to the market, it is priced well beyond the pockets of local people. I congratulate Des McNulty—in fact, I congratulate all the previous speakers—for putting his finger on the issue by asking how a nurse or any health worker can afford the prices that houses go for nowadays. As Sarah Boyack said, the issue is almost certainly linked to antisocial behaviour.
A significant part of my work, and of all MSPs' work, concerns housing; all of us deal with absolutely desperate cases. I have an example to equal Sarah Boyack's: a one-bedroom former council house in the village of Portmahomack in my constituency sold recently for £95,000.
I have a positive suggestion for the minister. The fact is that local authorities are not building houses—or, at least, that is the case for Highland Council. The situation may be linked to what was formerly known as the block A allocation or capital consents. John Home Robertson's wise words were that the planning process should cover allocation of land for affordable housing. That, in itself, would dictate the role of councils in housing. I remain completely unreconstructed in my view that councils have an important role to play. I mourn the passing of the day when councils could do something about build new houses.
I have another suggestion for the minister. Surprisingly, there is empty and unused accommodation in my constituency—oddly
Another example in my constituency is the high number of derelict croft houses on the east side of Caithness. Again, using grant money or a targeted or increased form or level of grant, it may be possible to bring those houses back into use for people who need them so badly.
We have heard the wise and accurate perspective of members from the south of Scotland—the situation is absolutely the same in the Highlands. As other members have correctly said, people may well be forced to move away from their local areas so that they can access housing. In the case of a Highland community, that can be tragic. I have nothing against incomers—they are very welcome—but I have everything against local people having to move away because they cannot afford to put a roof over their heads. The subject is so big that it demands action. I exhort the minister to do everything in his power to examine the issue. If that means cross-cutting into other departments, so be it.
Maureen Macmillan (Labour)
Like others, I welcome the debate, which John Home Robertson instigated, and I was pleased to sign his motion. As others have said, affordable housing concerns us all, whether we represent rural or urban areas.
Recently, numbers on the housing waiting lists in the Highlands have increased hugely due to the surge in house prices. People who aspired to buy now find that impossible to contemplate. They swell the housing lists, which stand at about 8,000. Many immigrant workers are also coming into the Highlands, mostly from eastern Europe, and they are also putting local housing under pressure.
I am aware that affordable houses to rent and buy are being built in the Highlands and Islands. When I was in the Argyll islands this summer, I saw projects under way in Islay and Tiree to build
I am also concerned about how we keep affordable bought houses affordable for the next generation of purchasers. It is unclear how that can be done in all cases. The Highlands and Islands come under substantial pressure from the second-home market, but useful legislation exists: a rural housing burden under the Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003 would enable a rural housing body to buy back at a non-inflated price a property that it had helped to fund, whenever that property went on sale.
Homestake is being piloted. Under that scheme, onward sales can be restricted if a registered social landlord keeps a golden share and if the original criteria for purchase—a local connection and a certain level of income—are applied to prospective buyers. I would like the minister to confirm that.
I am anxious about whether all affordable homes that have been bought by local people as part of the criteria for ownership are similarly protected. In an advert in Tiree's local newspaper, M & K MacLeod Ltd offers, with grant assistance from Communities Scotland, houses at £80,000 for people with local connections and so on, subject to vetting by Communities Scotland. I believe that the subsidy is £40,000 per house. The advert does not say that the houses are part of homestake and I do not know whether Communities Scotland considers itself a rural housing body under the 2003 act. I have written to ask the minister what will happen when those houses are sold. Will a mechanism reserve them for local people, or will it be possible to sell them as holiday homes at double the price? Such homes must be protected from future speculation, so I ask the minister what is happening.
On the right to buy, it has been possible to apply for pressured area status for some time—since the first housing bill that Parliament passed—but local authorities have been reluctant to do that. We must ask why. Is the system too bureaucratic, or do authorities not want to tell people that they will be unable to buy their council houses? Local authorities and housing associations would prefer the Executive to abolish the right to buy.
In the Highlands, some former local authority homes have ended up on the second-home market, which is intolerable. If we were to keep the right to buy, could we amend the 2003 act to provide a right of pre-emption over a former local authority or housing association house, as exists for rural housing, so that such properties could be
It is important that, having invested much money in building affordable housing to rent or buy, we do not lose it—and certainly not to the second-home market.
Murray Tosh (Conservative)
The debate is heavily oversubscribed, so I am minded to accept a motion to extend it by 15 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended until 6.06 pm.—[Murray Tosh.]
Motion agreed to.
Fergus Ewing (Scottish National Party)
Members have made important points, which I will not repeat. There is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in my constituency, but a lot of good work is being done by housing associations and other agencies, including private sector companies such as Tulloch Construction, Morrison's and Robertson's, which do a sterling job.
I want to deal with three issues that have not been raised, the first of which is self-invested pension plans. All parties in the Scottish Parliament may be concerned about the surge in house prices, to use Maureen Macmillan's phrase. However, if the chancellor down in Westminster takes measures that will increase the value of existing houses, that will be bad—it will be inflationary, as we can foresee. However, that is what Gordon Brown is doing by allowing people to include houses in their pension schemes, which, of course, will attract tax relief. Demand will be created as soon as people are offered tax relief if they put something in their pensions and prices will be inflated if demand is created. I would be interested to know what the minister has to say about that.
Secondly, there have been severe restraints in rural Scotland in particular as a result of the lack of water and sewerage infrastructure. The next round of improvements under quality and standards III is due to begin shortly and will last for a long time—I think that it will last for around nine years. I understand that Scottish Water has estimated that the cost of Q and S III will be £3.3 billion, but the water industry commissioner, with consultants—whose remit has not been published—has given an estimated figure of £2.2 billion. How on earth
Thirdly, for some time I have pressed the Forestry Commission to make available some of its land for housing. Obviously, the Forestry Commission is in the business of growing trees; indeed, I hope that it will plant a few more trees in the years to come. However, it is Scotland's largest landowner—it owns even more land than the Duke of Westminster does. I was delighted and surprised that a copy of the national forest land scheme arrived by e-mail but, when I sat down and read it, I thought that it seemed too bureaucratic and complicated. The scheme is only for communities—private individuals cannot apply—which must have a ballot if the value of the plot that is to be acquired by them for housing is more than £50,000. Why? Individuals rather than communities will live in the house. Should not individuals in the Highlands have the chance to buy a plot from the Forestry Commission?
I wrote a characteristically long, lawyerly letter with 29 numbered paragraphs to Bob McIntosh and received a pleasant reply. However, I did not get the impression that the Executive is grasping the issue by the scruff of the neck and saying to the Forestry Commission, "Look, we want you to supply us with targets for the number of houses." In my patch, people could wait on a housing list for several decades after their expected lifespan. I ask the minister whether there is an imperative to get the Forestry Commission—well intentioned though it is—to be rather more ambitious for Scotland.
I hope that the minister will address those three issues and say in particular whether he agrees with what Gordon Brown is doing—it would be reassuring to hear that not everybody in the Labour Party supports Gordon Brown. However, to be serious, it must be clear to everybody in Scotland that the new Labour measure that I mentioned will be fairly disastrous if we are to achieve the aims that we all want to achieve.
Dr Sylvia Jackson (Labour)
I thank John Home Robertson for bringing the debate to the Parliament. His motion has been well supported, as it should be, because the topic is important.
Obviously, there is concern throughout Scotland about the social rented sector and the shortage of
Maureen Macmillan and other members mentioned the right to buy. The Rural Stirling Housing Association tells me that it is now only seven years away from having all its stock—more than 300 houses—covered by the right to buy. To Maureen Macmillan I say that rural houses are not all protected from the right to buy and that that is a problem. I would like the minister to consider introducing some sort of measure, such as Maureen mentioned, to save those houses.
The second point that John Home Robertson makes in his motion is that
"applicants in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation can be stuck on waiting lists".
There are more than 2,000 people on Stirling Council's waiting list and there are 123 homeless applications. The Forth Housing Association's waiting list is 709 and the Rural Stirling Housing Association's waiting list is nearly 600. The figures in my constituency are very high.
The third point in the motion is that
"there is a need for a clearer definition of affordability".
Early on, the cross-party group on affordable housing raised the issue of the definition not so much of affordability as of affordable housing. The Executive's Scottish planning policy 3—"Planning for Housing"—defines affordable housing as
"housing of a reasonable quality that is affordable to people on modest incomes."
As Murray Tosh said, that is a bit airy-fairy. Affordable housing is not well defined at all.
Another important issue that the cross-party group considered is how an accurate assessment of housing need can be made. As the Bramley research has pointed out, the difficulty of using housing market areas is that some areas are masked by others, as Cornton is masked by Bridge of Allan in my constituency. That, too, is a problem.
The fourth key point in the motion is its welcome for the Executive's initiatives. We must be positive about the fact that huge amounts of money are going into regeneration in areas such as Raploch, Cornton and Cultenhove. That represents a new, holistic approach to regeneration, which is about not just houses, but schools, health and the environment.
Nevertheless, other members have raised some important issues. Sarah Boyack spoke eloquently
A further issue is the escalating cost of raw materials. We have a good example in the Ballater project and I believe that we should have more initiatives of that type. We also have a labour and skills shortage, although there are good examples of local labour agreements, such as those in Raploch, and training schemes, of which we should have more. Finally, we have problems with water and sewerage infrastructure, as Fergus Ewing mentioned. We must enable further development of the infrastructure. Although a lot is being done—I do not want to be totally negative—we must move on and do other things as well.
Dr Jean Turner (Independent)
I thank John Home Robertson for securing this debate on a subject that everyone agrees is important. I also thank members who have spoken for the things they have said.
For most of my life, I have been involved with people at the sharp end. I know that homes mean a lot to people and that they affect their health. People need more than just windproof and watertight homes to make their lives whole. The point about antisocial behaviour was well made. In Bearsden, a leafy suburb, we have a single parent with two children who has been on a waiting list for nine years. The teenage son is fed up with moving around and not having a home, and he is beginning to go off the rails. We must think about the whole person and about communities.
When I moved into East Dunbartonshire, I was surprised to find that it is top of the price list, along with East Renfrewshire, East Lothian and Edinburgh. I was also surprised to learn that we need to build 500 new homes every year. That figure is based on 2001 figures in a tested study by the Scottish Executive reporter. There are nine sites in East Dunbartonshire where they are intending to build, but we will be lucky if we get 100 rented houses out of them.
The availability of land is extremely important. We have to define affordable housing and to explain to the people who might not want it in their back yard why we have to build houses that people can afford.
The subject of what is affordable has been mentioned. There are professionals in medicine and teaching who cannot afford £250,000 for a house. I am reminded of when the oil came in Aberdeen and a lot of the junior doctors had to move further away from the city because they
There are about 4,000 people on the waiting list for new provision or transfer in my area. Good points were made about the homeless. New regulations will make that situation more difficult because, at present, 70 per cent of the vacant properties go to homeless people and only 30 per cent go to people on the waiting list. That 70 per cent will probably reduce as new regulations come into force.
I am worried about people having the right to buy. I am certainly worried about patients of mine who were able to pay mortgages but not rent. Houses have upkeep costs and I wonder what will happen to houses if people cannot keep them in good repair.
A lot of national health service land has been given up for building and the Scottish Executive makes health boards maximise receipts from land. Perhaps the Executive could think about that and how it hinders the building of affordable and rented housing. The minister could also consider taking in more of the green belt. Dare I say that, coming as I do from a place that has lots of green belt? There are things the minister could do to help the quite dire situation, which is extremely worrying. People will end up with ill health even if they have warm and dry accommodation if they are not settled in their existence with their own home.
Susan Deacon (Labour)
I join others in congratulating John Home Robertson on securing tonight's debate. He and I share a constituency boundary so it should come as no surprise that I share the experiences that he has described. I also share his analysis of the problem and his views on many of the potential solutions.
I am impressed by some of the solutions that have been offered tonight and, like others, I am also impressed with many of the steps that the Executive has taken. However, I underscore the view that has been expressed by other members about how profound the situation is.
As I represent part of East Lothian and part of the city of Edinburgh, I represent two of Sylvia Jackson's Es. I can honestly say that there is no other issue that causes such difficulty in local areas as the shortage of affordable housing. It causes difficulty to the individuals concerned through unmet social need and it has knock-on economic consequences. It breaks my heart—I am sure other members feel the same—to explain, time after time, what has happened in the housing market, why the situation is as it is, and why, even
We must do something to ensure that we do not continue to preside over such a situation. I know that there are no quick fixes and that the Executive is taking steps, but my plea is that we inject into such action as is being taken an urgency and pace that has not always been apparent so far. We need to join up policy, practice and thinking in a meaningful way.
Let me briefly reiterate some of the issues that have been mentioned tonight and add one or two others. First, I would not have believed that I could become so interested in planning as I have over the past couple of years. In part, that is because I realise just how key planning is to housing and many other central aspects of the Executive's social and economic policies. I plead with the minister to ensure that the proposed planning bill is used to unlock some of the issues that have been described tonight.
Sylvia Jackson mentioned regeneration. As I represent areas such as Craigmillar, I can see the win-wins that could exist if we could get moving further and faster in taking forward the next stage of regeneration in such communities. That could help to resolve some of the city's wider housing needs.
Construction has not been mentioned. We desperately need to build skills so that, when we take the decisions to move forward and build the houses that are needed, we have the people who can do it.
As my constituency shares a boundary with the minister's, I know that he cares about the issue as profoundly as the rest of us. I hope that tonight's debate will have added weight to the arguments that he is putting within the Executive so that the issue is given the priority it desperately needs. We must not lose more months or years in finessing consultation processes, reviews or strategies; action is needed. We already have the commitment; we just need to see things happening.
Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)
I am passionately and open-mindedly committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing, including affordable to rent and affordable to buy housing. I say open-mindedly quite deliberately, as I have found tonight's debate very interesting. I shall read over it with care and I shall take on board and reflect on many of the interesting points that have been made.
There is no one solution to the problem—or even just six or 10 solutions—so we need a jigsaw of policies to deal with it. If the Executive has not yet put parts of the jigsaw into place, I am more than happy to seek them out and put them in place.
Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)
I might in a moment, but I need to make progress.
I am quite willing to challenge anyone—including Gordon Brown—if I think that they are stopping our policies, but I must say that Fergus Ewing has lost perspective on the chancellor's pension proposals. I do not believe that they will have the effect that Fergus Ewing suggested.
Let me summarise what we are doing before I move on, in the second part of my speech, to planning. Our big programme for affordable rented housing will provide 16,500 homes over the next three years. That is the highest level of new provision for a generation. This year, our overall affordable housing investment programme will receive more than £400 million, which is a 23 per cent increase on last year.
On low-cost home ownership, other members have mentioned the homestake scheme, which I launched last week. Homestake will help in particular first-time buyers and people on low incomes who are unable to pay the full price of a property. I can reassure Maureen Macmillan that an advantage of the scheme is that it provides a mechanism that allows registered social landlords to retain a golden share of properties in pressured areas so that affordable housing is not lost from the affordable sector.
An important point is that homestake is overwhelmingly about new build. Given that several speakers are from Edinburgh and the Lothians, I should say that we are piloting in the Lothians a slightly different version of homestake that will run alongside the Scotland-wide scheme. The pilot will allow successful applicants to buy a home on the open market.
However, there are many other parts to housing policy. Prudential borrowing, which John Home Robertson mentioned, is available to many councils. Community ownership will help significantly in tackling the issues in Edinburgh that Sarah Boyack and Susan Deacon mentioned.
Another issue is the additional income from reduced council tax discounts, but that has not been mentioned. We also have the amended right to buy.
I have just received an application from East Renfrewshire Council, on which I hope to give a view very soon. If local authorities feel that they have a problem with the right to buy and the availability of affordable rented housing in their areas, they should use the powers that enable them to apply for an exemption. It seems to me that enabling local solutions to that problem was a wise move by the Scottish Executive.
Murray Tosh (Conservative)
My question relates to the figures the minister quoted for his three-year building programme. He will remember that his predecessor, Margaret Curran, announced a target of 6,000 houses in each of three years—a total of 18,000. Was that enough? Were 6,000 a year achieved? Why is his current target lower than his predecessor's?
Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)
The current three-year target is obviously more than the previous target, at 21,500, but that was based on the evidence of Bramley and others and on local authority housing assessments. We remain committed to further improvement of the evidence base, and work is under way to improve the quality and consistency of local housing assessments.
Of course, there are other land issues apart from planning. Forestry Commission land has been mentioned and there is a land banking scheme in the Highlands that I wanted to refer to. I can also tell Sarah Boyack something that is quite significant in relation to what she said about public sector land: we are considering the results of a recent consultation on new regulations, under the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, to streamline the consents process for the disposal by local authorities of land at less than market price. That certainly goes some way to answering her point on public sector land.
I shall move on to planning, because time is vanishing at an alarming rate. I want to talk mainly about PAN 74, but I remind members of SPP 3, on planning for housing, which requires planning authorities to meet the need for housing within their areas, encourages them to take a long-term view when allocating land for new housing through their development plans, and indicates in general terms how the planning system can support the delivery of affordable housing. The revised draft SPP 21, on green belts, which was issued this summer, is intended to reiterate that guidance and to encourage a long-term view to be taken of the need for land for development. The draft SPP 21
However, it is PAN 74 that has mainly been referred to, and it addresses the points raised by Murray Tosh, John Home Robertson and others about designating land for affordable housing. The key role of the PAN is to establish a benchmark in local authority areas where there is evidence of a shortage of affordable housing of 25 per cent of the units on market housing sites being made available for the provision of affordable housing for sale or rent.
John Home Robertson (Labour)
I acknowledge everything that is said in PAN 74. It enables the local authority to express a wish that a proportion of the land should be developed as affordable housing, but the trouble is that it cannot deliver. If the people who own the land sit on it and will not release it for affordable housing, we are no further forward. Can the minister help to unlock that, please?
Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)
The reality is that PAN 74 is delivering. Authorities such as City of Edinburgh Council have been using the affordable housing contributions for some time. When I visited Inverness last week, councillors there were praising PAN 74 for offering them many new opportunities to develop affordable housing. PAN 74 urges developers to work with housing associations to deliver affordable housing as part of market housing developments. Where a relevant policy has been included in the development plan, developers will be expected to make a proportion of housing on each new site available for affordable housing. The land for affordable housing may be sold to a registered social landlord for development, in which case it must be transferred at below market value.
In response to Murray Tosh's point, I should also say that PAN 74 indicates the possibility that planning authorities can make interim policies for affordable housing when development plan review is not imminent. PAN 74 indicates that, in preparing development plans, local authorities can influence the delivery of affordable homes by allocating sites specifically for affordable housing. When I was in the Highlands last week, I was told that Highland Council has recently used that approach, allocating land for affordable housing in its finalised draft local plan for Wester Ross.
John Home Robertson thought that he was going too far when he suggested compulsory purchase, but when a planning authority wishes to play an active role in prioritising the delivery of affordable housing on allocated sites, it can make use of compulsory purchase powers to acquire land allocated for affordable housing.
Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)
I am happy to consider the points raised by Murray Tosh—he might be about to make another one now. As I said at the beginning of the debate, I am happy to consider his points and other suggestions that have been made so that we can improve the way in which the system works. The fundamental point that I am making is that a designation of land for affordable housing can already be made. It may be that we need to get better at implementing such a designation.
Murray Tosh (Conservative)
I am aware that local authorities can compulsorily purchase, but I am also aware that none of them ever do. The minister knows that his department carried out significant research into the issue a couple of years ago. Is he willing, given his open-mindedness, to consider the suggestion that the planning bill becomes a planning and compulsory purchase bill, which is what was passed in the United Kingdom Parliament?
Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)
I do not think that we can change the planning bill in that way at such short notice, but I accept that compulsory purchase may well have to be considered in another context.
I am well over my time already and I have not had time to address several other points that were raised.
In conclusion, I am happy to consider all the points that have been made and to establish what other actions can be taken through the planning system or in housing investment to address the problems that have been eloquently described. I am passionately committed to securing an increase in the supply of affordable housing by whatever means are at my disposal and I thank members for all the suggestions that they have made.
Meeting closed at 18:06.