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Affordable Housing (North-east Fife)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:04 pm on 2nd June 2004.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:04 pm, 2nd June 2004

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-1329, in the name of Iain Smith, on affordable housing in north-east Fife. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the shortage of affordable housing for rent or sale in many communities in north-east Fife; recognises that this is due to many factors including the decline in the amount of public sector rented accommodation, the popularity of many communities as retirement and holiday locations and, in the case of St Andrews, the accommodation needs of the growing student population; expresses its concern about the difficulties faced by many people in trying to obtain affordable accommodation in their own communities and the pressures on rural services such as schools, and considers that Fife Council, Communities Scotland and the Scottish Executive should develop an effective housing plan for north-east Fife that addresses these concerns to ensure viable, vibrant and sustainable communities throughout north-east Fife.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 5:13 pm, 2nd June 2004

I thank the Parliamentary Bureau, and members who supported my motion, for giving me the opportunity to secure this debate on affordable housing in north-east Fife. I also thank the minister and members who have stayed to contribute to the debate.

The debate is intended not to be used to criticise those who are responsible for social housing provision in north-east Fife—whether it be Fife Council, Communities Scotland or the Scottish Executive—but to be an opportunity to highlight the significant housing problems that exist in rural communities such as north-east Fife.

Housing problems are often pigeonholed as urban issues and I do not underestimate the significant housing issues that affect many of our towns and cities. It is, perhaps, inevitable that housing policymakers have tended to focus on issues that affect cities such as Glasgow or Dundee, but we should not forget the problems that face many of our smaller communities. Solutions that may be right for Glasgow or Dundee might not work in Gauldry or Dunshalt.

The shortage of affordable housing is a very real problem in many rural communities. The factors behind the shortage are by no means unique to north-east Fife, but we are perhaps unique in having so many of them affect us at the same time. Those factors include the sale of council houses; the number of second and holiday homes; the fact that north-east Fife is a nice place to retire to; increased commuting; the growing student population; and the general increase in the number of households. All those factors contribute to the increased demand for housing and the shortage of affordable housing in north-east Fife.

Private developers have responded to that demand by providing new build for sale, but they are building primarily at the higher end of the market, where the profits are greatest. The result is that those at the lower end of the income scale are, increasingly, being squeezed out at both ends by the reduction in the available stock of social rented accommodation and by property prices that are outwith their affordable range, even if they wished to buy.

House prices in some parts of north-east Fife are comparable with some of the most expensive parts of Scotland. For many years, there has been very high demand for housing in the ancient city of St Andrews in particular, and the St Andrews effect is spreading to many other parts of north-east Fife. According to the Bank of Scotland house price index, house prices in Cupar, for example, rose by more than 50 per cent during the year ending in March 2004. The average price is now more than £130,000, which is 20 per cent above the Scottish average and 40 per cent above the average for Fife.

For many young couples and families who are looking for their first home in local communities, such prices are simply unaffordable. They are forced to look elsewhere and often have to move away from their families and communities simply to get a roof over their heads that they can afford. The alternative of renting is simply not available. Outwith St Andrews, to which I will return, there is no significant private rented sector. Council house sales have meant that, for most families, nor is there any realistic prospect of council or housing association rented accommodation.

Right to buy was imposed by the Conservatives not as a housing policy, but as a policy of social engineering. It was about imposing a Conservative ideology, not about ensuring that we had the right balance of housing by tenure and type. I am not ideologically opposed to the right to buy, but the way in which it was implemented by the Conservatives was a disaster. Implementation of the policy was indiscriminate and uncontrolled, and it led to the best houses in the best areas being sold first, often to be sold on as second homes or for student lets. Housing authorities were not given the powers to ensure that an appropriate balance of socially rented accommodation was retained in communities. The policy was underfunded, leaving tenants to meet unpaid debts and the costs of sorting out the poorer quality housing stock from the reduced rent base, and leaving councils unable to replace much-needed rented accommodation.

In north-east Fife, more than half of the council housing stock has been sold and that has led to pressure on the remaining stock, which cannot meet need. For example, in St Andrews there are only 957 council houses left out of 2,053. Already more than 50 per cent of the allocations in St Andrews are made to homeless applicants. It is virtually impossible for anyone who is on the general needs list—those without special needs—to get housing in St Andrews.

The problem in St Andrews is exacerbated by the purchase of properties for letting to students. I do not suggest that students do not have a legitimate housing need, but the increased student population has certainly added to the pressure on housing in the town. St Andrews is also a popular place for retirement, no doubt because of the excellent rates that residents get if they want to play golf on the St Andrews links.

Indeed, the whole east neuk of Fife is a popular place for retirement and holiday homes. More than 60 per cent of second homes in Fife are in the east neuk, and 98 per cent are in north-east Fife. The growth in the number of holiday homes has put many of our communities under strain. Holiday homes contribute to the upward pressure on house prices and they reduce the amount of accommodation that is available for permanent residents, which can put at risk many of the vital community services that are needed to sustain rural village life. If there are no homes available for young families, there are no children for our local schools. Post offices, village shops, pubs, bus services and community groups are all at risk when there is not a sustainable permanent population. In many communities in north-east Fife, such as Kingsbarns, Crail and Earlsferry, that is already a real concern. The indefensible discount on council tax for second homes must end so that second home owners make a fair contribution to sustaining local services. The money that would be raised could even be used to support essential new social rented housing in these communities.

Other parts of north-east Fife, such as Cupar and the Howe of Fife, have come within commuting distance, not just of Dundee and Glenrothes but of Edinburgh. That, too, has put pressure on house prices in north-east Fife.

Affordable housing has become a real problem in north-east Fife and I am pleased that the recently published local housing strategy for Fife has recognised that. North-east Fife has nearly 20 per cent of all housing in Fife, but it has less than 14 per cent of social rented housing. We also have the greatest requirement for affordable housing, with an estimated shortfall of more than 3,000 units compared with a net requirement for Fife as a whole of just 712. The present funding from Communities Scotland, averaging 270 units per annum across Fife, would barely scrape the surface even if all that investment were made in north-east Fife, which it is not.

The proposal to include in the Fife structure plan a requirement that 30 per cent of all housing in developments of more than 10 units will have to be affordable is to be welcomed, but it will have little impact until the later years of the structure plan. Further, what is meant by affordable? Is £100,000 affordable? That is what is being suggested for some developments in St Andrews. Will that proposal ensure that there will be an appropriate balance of tenure types, social rented homes, private rented homes, rent-to-buy properties and low-cost purchase properties and the right mix of house types and sizes? How will it deal with the problems in our smaller communities that might require only one or two social rented units?

The right-to-buy policy will continue to make it difficult for the Fife housing partnership fully to address those issues unless north-east Fife is recognised as a pressured area. I welcome the fact that north-east Fife has developed a case to apply for pressured-area status and I hope that the Scottish ministers will look favourably on that application if it is received. I also welcome the commitment in the housing local strategy to complete an updated housing needs and affordability assessment and to update and develop the rural housing plan.

Those actions are welcome, but they do not guarantee any additional affordable housing. What is needed is resources. North-east Fife needs investment in social housing if it is to start to address the shortfall of more than 3,000 affordable housing units. I urge the Scottish Executive, Communities Scotland, Fife Council and the Fife housing partnership to make a commitment to that investment.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 5:21 pm, 2nd June 2004

There are housing shortages in north-east Fife, as there are in many parts of Scotland, including the capital city of Edinburgh. The problem in the case of St Andrews is exacerbated by the growing number of students, but it is not as straightforward as Mr Smith's motion suggests. While it is true that many town-centre properties are now occupied by students, several university residences have spare capacity; indeed, some of the older residences have been sold off to the private sector because many students no longer wish to live in dormitory-type accommodation.

However, just as there are many parts of Scotland that have problems with affordable housing, there are parts—including some in central Fife—in which there is spare housing capacity. Statistically, some of the most affordable housing in Scotland is in the Leven area, only a few miles from north-east Fife.

On a recent visit to Mountfleurie Primary School, I was interested to learn that the Edinburgh overspill is now spreading to places such as Leven and Buckhaven. The standards of local education are excellent and, with attractive coastal villages such as Lundin Links and Lower Largo nearby, the quality of life for young professionals who are choosing to commute to Edinburgh is obvious.

The same pattern is true elsewhere in the UK. While some areas are overheated and have a shortage of affordable housing, there are other, less-desirable, areas in which that is not the case. While John Prescott claims that Britain needs 2 million new homes, at least 800,000 homes—a quarter of which are owned by the public sector—are lying empty. The Government argues that population growth has caused greater need for more houses, but Scotland appears to be haemorrhaging people. Our problem is not that we need more houses, but that we need different kinds of houses, perhaps in different places.

I have some problems with Mr Smith's contention that many people cannot obtain affordable accommodation in their own communities. I am not sure how we would define what would constitute people's own community. I believe that St Andrews is my community, since I was born, brought up and educated there, but why should that guarantee me affordable accommodation in the town? It seems to me that, if I cannot afford to make my home there, I should live elsewhere. That is exactly what I did until I was able to afford to come back and live in St Andrews.

I remain unconvinced that Fife Council's latest major vision to help alleviate Fife's affordable housing crisis will do anything of the kind. Building affordable housing is a laudable ambition but it is fraught with difficulties, especially in places such as St Andrews, where the pressures of the marketplace quickly turn affordable houses into houses that people simply cannot afford.

The right approach is to help people to afford to buy the houses that are available, and that means shared equity. People who are determined to live in the area of their choice might not be able to afford 100 per cent of a house, but they might be able to afford, say, half or two thirds of the price. By working with the lending industry, builders and local authorities, an equity revolution could allow millions of people to get on to the property ladder. At a time of their choosing, those people might or might not decide to buy over the whole equity. To improve the standard of housing for everyone in Scotland, it is necessary to devolve control of housing from councils to local housing associations, housing co-operatives and a range of other providers. That would give tenants a real choice of landlord and a real say in the management of their homes. The right to buy should be extended to the housing associations, creating a more fluid housing sector.

The end of council housing should be welcomed, as such provision has been characterised by unsympathetic and unresponsive bureaucracy and financial waste on a massive scale. We need management that will face up to its responsibilities to control and, if need be, evict antisocial and disruptive tenants.

The land that we need to free up for any necessary housing developments should, in the first instance, be brownfield land. In that connection, I see real potential in the Guardbridge area, which is only three miles from St Andrews. That could provide both major housing and light industrial development, if required. Building on greenfield sites has doubled under Labour. As a member of the local greenbelt forum, I am dedicated to preserving the natural setting and environment of St Andrews. That does not mean that there should never be further development in the town, but we have a responsibility to ensure that we do not destroy the very qualities that make places such as St Andrews attractive to home owners and visitors alike.

We must recognise that in St Andrews we have Scotland's most intact medieval city and its original ecclesiastical capital. We have a national responsibility to protect and preserve that for future generations. For that reason, I am opposed to the application of any short-term measures to solve a perceived housing problem that may just be a problem of people failing to go to other places to find houses. If they wish eventually to return to St Andrews, why should they not do so, as I did?

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 5:26 pm, 2nd June 2004

I have my other glasses on, but the last time that I looked I was not Richard Lochhead.

I congratulate Iain Smith on securing tonight's debate. I know that it is customary in such debates to thank and congratulate the member who has secured them, but on this occasion my congratulations are genuine. This is a very important debate and I have never heard Iain Smith speak better in the chamber.

Although we are right to focus on north-east Fife, we must recognise that a shortage of affordable housing is a problem in rural areas throughout Scotland. Average house prices have risen—as Iain Smith said, prices in Cupar have risen by more than 50 per cent in the past year alone. It is not the case that St Andrews, in particular, is becoming unaffordable; housing is unaffordable in many areas of north-east Fife. If house prices in Scotland had increased only by the rate of inflation since 1975, the average price would be £48,000 lower than it is.

Throughout Fife, house prices are rising at an unprecedented rate, partly as a result of the fact that prices are so high in Edinburgh. Because people on modest incomes are unable to buy in Edinburgh the kind of houses that they want, we are seeing a ripple effect throughout Fife. As Iain Smith rightly said, that extends all the way up to Cupar. The parts of Fife that have access to a mainline railway station are the areas in which house prices are rising. Perhaps we should consider the dispersal of jobs from the likes of Edinburgh to places such as Fife and taking jobs to where people are, because at the moment those people are commuting to Edinburgh for jobs.

People are moving into Fife and into West Lothian, where house prices are much lower. To the mix of reasons for the rise in house prices, we must add the fact that the number of council houses is decreasing, because houses have been bought under the right to buy and not replaced. I say to Ted Brocklebank that it is clear that, after all these years, the Tories have learned nothing about housing and the housing market. It is not good enough to suggest that people can go away and come back.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I did it, and I was born in a council house.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

It is. I appreciate Keith Raffan's intervention.

Local authorities, including Fife Council, have a statutory duty to house people. The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 placed new duties on local authorities. At the moment, many local authorities are struggling just to meet their statutory duties, never mind to house people with general needs.

The Executive has undertaken a review of affordable housing, which lasted until April 2004. When the minister sums up, it will be useful if she speaks about the review, its timetable and its outputs. As Iain Smith recognised, the strategy that Fife Council has developed will be only a piece of paper until the council gets the resources that it needs to ensure that there is provision of affordable housing. There is only a small rented housing sector in north-east Fife—I refer to both council and private rented accommodation. As Iain Smith said, there are fewer than 1,000 council houses in the whole of north-east Fife.

Houses are being built that cost more than £100,000. Few young people can afford to buy such houses and people on average incomes are simply being priced out of the market. Many young people live with their parents for longer, because they simply cannot get into the housing market. The shortage of affordable accommodation and the fact that housing is not available in the right place at the right time are particular problems in north-east Fife, because of the number of second homes there, but they are also problems throughout Fife.

Ted Brocklebank is right. There are areas in Scotland in which there are surplus houses. Frankly, however, the surplus houses are in places where jobs do not exist and where people do not want to live. It is not just a matter of saying that there are houses on a council estate somewhere and asking why people do not go there to live. We must provide the houses where the jobs and the people are.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 2nd June 2004

Members might wonder why I am speaking in the debate, but I know something about St Andrews because I went to university there and I have two daughters currently at the university. From personal experience I can vouch for the fact that the accommodation situation in St Andrews is critical. If we consider it from the students' angle, accommodation is extremely expensive. There is a syndrome whereby wealthy parents buy houses and then let them through agents, which removes them from the market. The number of students who seek to go to the University of St Andrews is not helped by a certain royal effect, although the prince is very welcome in Scotland.

To look at the situation the other way round, part of the solution might come from the fact that more students in second and third year at the university go into rented accommodation than go into university accommodation. Perhaps a structural approach could be taken to the situation. The university has the Andrew Melville hall and other large halls. If those spaces could be increased, that might encourage students to stay longer in halls. That might not work, but it is worth being considered by the minister.

Much as I respect and pay heed to what Ted Brocklebank says, I found his comments rather strange. If I understood him right, in essence what he proposes is that the devil take the hindmost and, if someone comes from a poor background in St Andrews, they have no choice but to go and live in Leven or somewhere else. I have to tell Ted Brocklebank that a similar situation prevails in a rather similar community to St Andrews called Dornoch, which is built around a great golf course.

When I was leaving church in Dornoch last Sunday, people spoke to me about the problem of young people trying to get accommodation there. The situation is exactly the same as it is in St Andrews. People are buying into Dornoch partly on the back of the Inverness effect, which is a bit like the Edinburgh effect in Fife—prices are shooting up. However, as we all know, people are also buying for the postcode. If someone gets the right postcode, they can get on the waiting list for the Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

I say to the minister that some of the solution lies in the following areas. I am aware that, when council houses are sold now, the capital receipts can be used to build or repair a council's housing stock or to build new stock; it is not just a matter of paying off the housing debt. Further, more local authorities can borrow at their own hand. Of course, that power is related to what their debt profile looks like.

Let us compare the current situation with the old days. Those of us who were district councillors know that there were two sorts of funding: block A and block B. Block A was for public rented housing. The fact is that the capital that is available to the 32 Scottish local authorities today, combining capital receipts and borrowing, is a fraction of what it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. That issue is beyond the Executive's remit—ultimately, it is about the Treasury and the public sector borrowing requirement—but funding for council housing might have to be considered at a national level.

I say to Ted Brocklebank that the issue is not just about private versus public. With imaginative planning and the use of what used to be called block B funding, local authorities can work with the private sector on low-cost home ownership schemes and the sale of plots at a discounted rate to which various legal terms and conditions are attached. In parts of Scotland, those methods have been, and are being, used imaginatively. More of the same would go down well. Housing does not necessarily have to be in the public sector. I have seen low-cost home ownership work well.

I congratulate Iain Smith on securing the debate. He outlined succinctly the housing situation in St Andrews, as I understand it, which is paralleled in many other communities in Scotland. There is no easy solution to the housing problem, but it can be tackled on a number of fronts, including by considering the student accommodation situation in St Andrews.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 5:34 pm, 2nd June 2004

I thank Iain Smith for securing a debate on this important topic. I will comment briefly on three aspects of affordable housing: first, housing prices; secondly, the existing stock in St Andrews and north-east Fife; and, thirdly, how we should approach new housing development in Fife.

On prices, Iain Smith was right to mention the Bank of Scotland's Scottish house price league, in which the bank describes its best performers. Members will be delighted to hear that Cupar is, apparently, one of those best performers. It is in third place, with an average house price of £127,000, representing a rise of almost 50 per cent between 2002 and 2003. Such good performance might be good for sellers who are getting a windfall gain when they sell their house—an untaxed windfall gain, I might add—but it leads to the gap between the rungs on the property ladder getting wider and wider. That poses a special difficulty for first-time buyers who are trying to take their first step on to the property ladder.

We do not want to create a situation anywhere in Scotland that mirrors the situation in London, where public sector workers in effect are being driven out of London and have to live miles and miles away and spend most of their lives commuting in from vast distances. We need to consider innovative ways in which we can start to put a slight brake on housing prices in Scotland. I would be interested in examining land value taxation as a way of slowing down the acceleration that we are seeing in housing prices.

My second point is about the existing stock in St Andrews. There are a large number of empty second homes, and I agree with Iain Smith that it is wrong that those second homes are not taxed. It is also wrong that there are empty brownfield sites that have been earmarked for development but are being land-banked by property speculators. Although it is not a panacea, LVT could be useful in that respect, because by taxing those second homes, we could see them going into the private rented sector. If brownfield sites were taxed, that would provide encouragement for those sites to be developed.

My third point is about new housing development. I am pleased to see that Fife Council has included affordability as one of its sustainable development indicators, which is vital. I should perhaps declare a small interest, as I was briefly the subcontractor working on developing Fife's sustainability indicators in the mid-1990s. It is important that Fife Council has also established a new percentage for the amount of affordable housing that must be part of any new housing development. That is an important step forward. We need to ensure that new development is both environmentally and socially sustainable.

How we get sustainable housing developments in north-east Fife is a matter of planning, but it is also a matter of design. If members want to see good, ecological social rented housing, they should go to Perth and have a look at the Fairfield Housing Co-operative's houses there, which provide an example of fantastic ecological design. If they want to look at ecological housing developments, they should go to West Lothian, where the lowland crofting scheme has enhanced the environment in the local area. That scheme was designed to bring more high-end rateable value housing into West Lothian, but there is absolutely no reason why such a scheme could not be used in north-east Fife to stimulate low-cost housing, including self-build housing.

We need to consider ways of keeping prices in check. Let us slow down the acceleration of housing prices if we can. Let us examine ways of ensuring that our existing stock of housing is used and that land that is earmarked for development is used. Let us ensure that, where we build new housing developments, they are based on principles of good design. As part of that, let us consider how we can use LVT as a tool to start to address the issue.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:39 pm, 2nd June 2004

I am grateful to Iain Smith for giving us the opportunity to discuss an important issue, and also for his statement at the outset that the debate is about housing in areas such as north-east Fife, because the issues that he identified affect many comparable mixed rural and suburban areas. I am sure that he would agree that the solutions for north-east Fife can be found not in isolation but in policies that will address the needs of similar communities in similar situations across Scotland.

I want to make three points on what I think has to be done. The first relates to Tricia Marwick's point about the review of affordable housing. We need to have a debate on quantitative issues—on the need for units, on the need for money, and on how objectives will be established and financed.

Secondly, we want to hear less from ministers in the months to come about relying on research such as the Glen Bramley research that has been conducted for the Executive and which analyses these issues council by council and so does not have the subtlety to measure the needs of areas—such as north-east Fife—that lie within local authority areas. I was pleased to hear Iain Smith say that the local housing strategy had identified particular needs within Fife Council's area.

Thirdly, I want to raise some issues that I feel are pertinent from Scottish planning policy 3, which is entitled "Planning for Housing". The document, although not material in planning inquiries, sets out the basis of the Executive's policy. It contains an interesting section on affordable housing, but the section is disturbingly vague. It talks about meeting need in "areas" but does not define especially clearly what those areas are. It refers to "development plans" and "local housing strategies". Those plans and strategies are documents that councils frame to set targets for their areas. SPP3 does not say for affordable housing, as it does for marketable housing, that the needs of each area must be met locally. It says that needs should

"where possible be met within the housing market area".

However, housing market areas are not local authority areas. There might be several housing market areas within one local authority, and some housing market areas cross several local authorities. There is no mechanism for allocating the spatial requirements for land supply—the numerical requirements—between one council and another. If, in a market-led economy, there is a clear difficulty in providing market land in Lothian, for example, it can be agreed that some of that land can go in the Scottish Borders Council area and a deal can be negotiated between East Lothian Council, West Lothian Council and Midlothian Council. However, on the basis of the planning guidance, that cannot be done in the rented sector. There is no mechanism for that, and no requirement that each council must identify and then meet the need within its own territorial boundaries. Much less is there a requirement that councils should do that on the basis of a local assessment of housing market areas and—crucially—the sub-market areas.

It is by such an assessment that we can say that demand is emerging in St Andrews or anywhere else, or say that 20 to 30 per cent of the local population will not be able to find a market solution to their housing needs. The alternative to meeting that demand is the financial cleansing of areas such as St Andrews: in effect, we say to 20 to 30 per cent of the population, "Go away and live somewhere else." That has never been the housing policy of any British Government, it is not the housing policy of the current Executive, and it is not a policy for sustainable communities.

We need a debate on how to identify and then meet local needs. We have to provide the land and the financial resources that are necessary to sustain the 20 per cent of people who need rented housing and the 10 per cent of people who need some form of assisted home ownership—those figures are the Scottish averages; the figures for north-east Fife might be different. We have to do that on a local basis and on a housing market and sub-market area basis.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 5:43 pm, 2nd June 2004

My only connection with St Andrews is that, as a teenager, I used to go to the caravan park on holiday. I therefore come to this debate as an outsider—I represent North East Scotland—but I very much welcome the fact that Iain Smith's motion gives us all an opportunity to talk about the rural housing crisis.

There is a crisis in the lack of affordable housing. One of the biggest disappointments in the Executive's track record over the past five years is that we had a rural housing crisis back in 1999 and here we are in 2004 and the rural housing crisis has not improved, but has got much worse. We have not had any political leadership on this issue. It is about time that the Government got the bit between its teeth and came up with some radical proposals.

The Parliament must also do more. My understanding is that no in-depth committee inquiry has been carried out into rural housing or affordable housing. Our committees should look into that. Far too many communities in rural Scotland spend years and years trying to get round the convoluted obstacles that prevent the building of more housing in those communities. We must get round these obstacles or demolish them—that is what political leadership is all about, but it has not been delivered during the past five years.

I was a member of the Rural Development Committee for the four years of the first session of the Parliament. We undertook many inquiries into the obstacles to rural development and we visited communities and spoke to young people in Lochaber, in Galloway and upper Nithsdale and in Huntly in Aberdeenshire, which I represent. The young people would say, "The difficulty in this community is that local people like me cannot get a house. We have nowhere to live, so we will have to leave and find a job elsewhere, unless we want to sleep on a relative's floor or settee." That scandalous situation continues and we must do something about it. I am so frustrated when I speak to young people in our communities who cannot afford to live and work in their own communities, where they want to live and work. The age profile in Aberdeenshire, for example, is zooming upwards because people retire to Aberdeenshire and young people cannot afford to live there. Deeside has many problems that are similar to those of north-east Fife. People are simply priced out of the local market and that is reflected throughout the country.

Land reform legislation did not go nearly far enough in relation to access to land. We have to consider how people can get land. The situation could be resolved if more homes were built—it is as simple as that—but we need land on which to build them. Why is it that local authorities hardly ever use compulsory purchase orders? We should investigate that and make it easier to secure such orders. We should give communities the power to buy land on which to build housing for rent or ownership. We must remember that the debate is about owning accommodation as well as renting it; people should have the right to buy a house in their local communities and not just an opportunity to rent affordable housing, however important that is.

Infrastructure has not been mentioned to any great extent, but it is crucially important. There is a chronic lack of infrastructure, which relates to the underfunding of Scottish Water, not just over the past few years but over decades, if not the past century or so. That must also be addressed. I received a letter from Scottish Water in March in response to a letter in which I asked the company why it is not doing more to put in place the infrastructure for affordable rural housing. Scottish Water told me that changes that the Executive made to the funding mechanism in the year 2001-02 took away the company's ability to put aside money for infrastructure for building houses in rural communities. Once again, the buck stops with the Executive, which made the situation worse in relation to the expansion of infrastructure for rural housing. Apparently that situation will not be addressed until after 2006.

There is to be a review of planning, which is crucially important, but we must not forget design. Currently, strapped authorities such as Aberdeenshire Council are planning to bulk buy houses. If they get their hands on land, they will build as many houses as they can as close to each other as possible and as cheaply and quickly as possible. That makes the planning situation worse, because people object to the building of more ugly houses in the countryside. It is a chicken-and-egg situation; if we do not build nice quality housing people will object to plans to build more houses.

We need political leadership from the Executive. We have waited five years for that.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat 5:48 pm, 2nd June 2004

I congratulate my colleague Iain Smith on obtaining this important debate on affordable housing in north-east Fife.

North-east Fife is, of course, part of the wider region of mid-Scotland and Fife that I and Mr Ruskell represent. As Mr Ruskell knows, north-east Fife is just one of several serious pressure points—if one can use that phrase—where there is a desperate need for affordable housing.

I recently attended a meeting of the Perth and Kinross forum—I think that Mr Ruskell was there, too—which is a quarterly meeting between Perth and Kinross Council officials and members of the Scottish Parliament. I wish more local authorities ran such meetings, because the forum is very useful and enables us to learn in detail about local problems. One of the most worrying presentations that we heard in recent months was about affordable housing in Perth and Kinross. I remember that we were shown a map that demonstrated how the situation had deteriorated during the past 10 years. Ten or 15 years ago, the lack of affordable housing was concentrated in highland Perthshire, but the problem has spread to eastern and western Perthshire. The Executive must address that major problem, which affects several parts of the region that I represent.

I agree with the analysis of the problem that several members have made. There has been a rise in the number of single households, retirement homes and second homes—perhaps those are examples of the prosperous economic situation of the past 10 years or so. The right to buy has particularly contributed to the problem. I feel somewhat responsible for that, having formerly been a Conservative member of Parliament. The main problem with the right to buy is that there was no replacement of the housing stock that was sold off. I agree with the rather restrained comments that my colleague Mr Smith made criticising the former Conservative Government for the uncontrolled way in which it allowed the right to buy with no follow-on policy of replacing the housing. That resulted in the serious situation in which we find ourselves today.

Several members raised ideas in the debate in response to the situation that we face today. I agree with the suggestions that were made, including those that called for an end to the council tax discount for second homes. I believe that we have to develop further the whole idea that 30 per cent of new developments should be affordable housing. That said, we need a definition of affordable housing.

I agree strongly with the points that Richard Lochhead made about Scottish Water, which had not been made previously in the debate. There are serious problems in Perth and Kinross with Scottish Water. The problems, which relate to connecting up new developments, are delaying the building of new housing, some of which is affordable housing.

We need to look at land value taxation. I am glad that the Greens have come around to what is a good Liberal Democrat policy of old; one that was espoused by James Davidson, the excellent member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire back in the 1960s.

We have to be careful about infrastructure too. I am thinking of the scale of uncontrolled development of the sort that is to be found around Dunfermline and Dalgety Bay—which is the biggest single housing development in Western Europe at the moment—and of its impact on the Forth road bridge, to give just one example. Infrastructure, community facilities and transport links are all important.

The response to the motion that we did not need was that made by Mr Brocklebank. There was a touch of the Marie Antoinette in what he said: "Let them eat cake. Go away, make money in television, buy a Jag and drive back to St Andrews." Basically, all that can be said about that Tory's be-like-me approach is that it was bizarre and out of touch.

I am glad for Mr Brocklebank's sake that Murray Tosh was in the chamber for the debate, as he was able to haul Tory policy back to the borders of sanity in his vaguely reasonable speech. I promise that Mr Brocklebank's comments will find themselves under every single door in north-east Fife. The Tory vote will plummet yet further, although it has not far to go.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 5:52 pm, 2nd June 2004

I congratulate Iain Smith on securing the debate this evening. Housing is an issue that is discussed constantly in the Parliament; indeed, it is a subject each and every member discusses on a daily basis. All of us feel that it is an important issue as far as providing for our communities is concerned. The debate is a worthwhile one, albeit that it is not the best-attended debate that I have attended.

The Executive appreciates the housing pressures that exist in north-east Fife. It is clear that north-east Fife is recognised as a high-demand area. We can see the priority that it is being given in both Communities Scotland's "Lothian, Borders and Fife Housing Market Context Statement" and Fife Council's recently completed local housing strategy.

The purpose of Fife Council's local housing strategy is to achieve for Fife and its local housing markets exactly what Iain Smith called for, which is to have in place a comprehensive housing strategy that responds to all the concerns that he raised this evening. That is why the Executive introduced that requirement on local authorities in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001.

Communities Scotland and Fife Council have agreed that north-east Fife is a priority area for investment in new-build affordable housing. That means that the area will be a priority area for the £8.5 million a year development funding that is available to Fife Council through the Communities Scotland programme.

I was pleased to learn that Communities Scotland's investment in east Fife is projected to increase by as much as 80 per cent. That increase is a recognition of the difficulties that members have highlighted this evening.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Does planning guidance require Fife Council to zone sufficient land to meet that need? If it does not, does the Executive intend to amend planning guidance in order to ensure that local authorities identify need and set out policies to meet it in their planning strategies as well as in their housing strategies?

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

My understanding is that Fife Council is developing its planning strategy, which will be put out to consultation soon. Of course, within the planning strategy, it would be logical for the council to examine the policies that it has already looked at through its housing strategy, to see where it can provide for that housing strategy. We have to give our local authorities some credit, because they do not operate two different streams but instead recognise that without providing in their development plans the land that is needed, they will not be able to satisfy their housing strategies.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I thank the minister for that response, but does she accept that some local authorities with new local plans do not have that policy and therefore do not carry that approach through? Does she further accept that the planning guidance issued by the Scottish Executive does not require them to take that approach and that in some areas of Scotland that is a real difficulty?

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

We are talking specifically about rural housing development. I am conscious that we are consulting on housing development in rural areas for the very reasons to which Murray Tosh's colleague alluded. We recognise that with developments in rural areas we must retain the character of the area but also answer the needs of the people in the area. We are aware that we have to bring those two strands together. I have more confidence in our local authority colleagues than perhaps Murray Tosh has. I want to make progress, but I will come back to Mr Brocklebank, because I did not miss his criticisms of local authorities.

I was encouraged to hear that Fife Council is currently undertaking further work to update its existing local needs assessment to uncover the extent of housing needs throughout Fife. That work will be important in informing the best way of delivering the local housing strategy. While north-east Fife has a particular set of housing issues, there are general concerns about shortages of affordable housing in other parts of Scotland, so they are not unique to Fife. I will come on to speak about some of the general things that we are doing in the housing review and answer the questions on timing that Tricia Marwick posed. First, however, I will pick up on a few points that members raised in the debate.

Iain Smith recognised that the solutions to housing problems need to be adapted to particular circumstances. We have a rural policy, but we have to recognise that different settlements will need different solutions. That is why in our housing review we have tried to involve as many people as possible. Iain Smith said that there is a problem with the fact that more than half of the rented housing in Fife has been sold, but I am aware that Fife Council is considering applying for pressured area status. That may assist the council in some ways, but I have to be realistic and say that pressured area status would apply only in relation to new tenancies, so there is a limit to how effective it could be. However, that would be another step along the way to addressing the situation.

I am also aware that Communities Scotland has commissioned research on the effect of second and holiday homes. That will be useful in a number of areas where there is a preponderance of such homes that affects the local market and supply. We need to respond to that situation more effectively.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

While holiday and second homes are important, does the minister accept that the underlying problem is the lack of homes? We should not be targeting holiday and second homes as the number 1 priority, however important they may be, because the main issue is that we have to make more land available so that more housing is built to address the shortage.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

I understand that it is a question of the overall number of homes. However, I also recognise that the underlying problem, which we need to address, is that there are different influences in each area. There are different circumstances and different demands for different types and sizes of housing. That is why the review will not just say that we need however many thousand extra homes in Scotland but will actually look at addressing the needs of individual communities.

I am aware that the Presiding Officer is looking at me, although I have not got through even half of the comments that members made. I will make a couple of quick comments on important matters that have been raised.

The first such matter is that of empty homes, which Mr Brocklebank raised. We recognise that there are empty homes in some areas of Scotland. The housing strategies that are being prepared will consider how to utilise those homes to best effect. However, I disagree with him that the answer is to move people from areas in which they want to live to fill those homes. We cannot do that—we must be a bit more strategic and responsive than that. I hope that we will come up with more positive solutions.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

I am sorry, but I am running out of time.

The Executive's affordable housing review is considering the issue of shared equity. We have had discussions with various funding providers to try to develop such schemes. From listening to one of the Tory housing spokespeople on "Newsnight", it is obvious that the Tories are still at the talking stage as well. Perhaps we will all learn something that will benefit people and allow them to access housing at rates that they can afford in the areas in which they wish to live.

We are bringing the housing review to a conclusion. We have spoken to a host of people who have an interest in providing affordable housing, whether to rent or buy, in the areas in which people want to live. We must listen to those views. We will produce ideas about how to address the clear demand, but it is not productive simply to pull numbers out of a hat, which has been the habit in the past. We must consider the underlying demand and work to address the issues. There are examples of good approaches to free up land for affordable housing. Mr Lochhead might be aware that we allocated forestry land in the north-east of Scotland for housing development. That is an example of the Executive working across departments to provide land for housing in an area in which there was a shortage. We need more such imaginative ideas of how to provide land and affordable housing for our communities.

Meeting closed at 18:03.