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Affordable Housing (North-east Fife)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:30 pm on 2nd June 2004.

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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.