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Affordable Housing (North-east Fife)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:48 pm on 2nd June 2004.

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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.