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Affordable Housing (North-east Fife)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:34 pm on 2nd June 2004.

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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.