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Affordable Housing (North-east Fife)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:39 pm on 2nd June 2004.

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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.