Affordable Housing (Highlands)

Finance and Public Services and Communities – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 15th February 2007.

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Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 2:15 pm, 15th February 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to increase the availability of affordable housing in the Highlands. (S2O-12027)

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

We are doing a great deal to provide affordable housing in the Highlands. Through Communities Scotland, the Executive is investing £33.6 million to improve the availability of affordable housing in the Highlands, which represents a 30 per cent increase on last year's housing investment programme. Overall, our housing investment in the Highlands has more than quadrupled since 1997-98.

I was pleased to visit Inverness last month and see one of the first households in the city to benefit from our innovative homestake shared equity scheme, which is aimed at helping those on low incomes get on to the property ladder. Since its launch, more than 200 other homestake houses have been approved in the Highlands.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

I thank the minister for that encouraging reply. I am sure that she will be aware of the distinct lack of affordable housing in the Highlands, which is proving to be an impediment to retaining our young people. Has the Scottish Executive ever considered sponsoring more community land trusts in the Highlands as a way of making more housing affordable for young people who so desperately need new homes?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I am prepared to look at any innovative suggestion for increasing the number of affordable homes. We are passionately committed to increasing the number of such homes for people in the Highlands. When I visited Inverness recently, I met a young nurse, Janet MacMillan, who was one of the first people to benefit from the homestake project. That is a shared equity model, so we are already introducing innovative ways of dealing with the problem in the Highlands, but I would be prepared to consider any other innovative approach.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Does the minister agree that it is singularly depressing that Highland Council tenants are having to endure an increase in rents and a freeze on repairs and infrastructure development while, across the Minch in my constituency, tenants are now part of a community body, the Hebridean Housing Partnership, under which there is a five-year rent agreement, a programme of home renovation and repairs, and a £15 million Scottish Executive fund to build 300 homes in the Western Isles in the next three or four years? That will constitute the largest home building initiative there since the Ministry of Works in the 1940s and 1950s. Will the minister further agree that those who campaigned for a no vote in the Highlands should hang their heads in shame?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I agree that the result of the ballot in the Highland Council area was extremely disappointing. People in the Highlands had what we thought was a terrific opportunity to benefit from a huge amount of funding. I agree with Alasdair Morrison that we welcome the Western Isles decision. We think that people there have taken the right decision, as they are going to be able to unlock a huge amount of funding. As he mentioned, some 300 new homes in the Western Isles is good news.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does the minister agree that there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in Lochaber, and does she agree that public money should be used for real priorities? Does she agree with George Lyon and me, who have both argued that there should not be a marine national park, which would cost several million pounds a year, and that that money would be far better spent on providing affordable housing in Lochaber?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Fergus Ewing would not necessarily expect me to agree with him, as a marine national park could bring massive benefits to the Lochaber economy. Overall, there has been a huge increase in affordable housing in the Highlands. Indeed, as I said, investment in such housing has more than quadrupled since 1997-98.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Is the minister aware of what Communities Scotland's housing inspection report said about Highland Council's provision of houses for homeless people? It gave the council only a fair mark for that provision. One area in which the council fell down was the need to provide appropriate temporary accommodation and to eliminate breaches of the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) Order 2004—in other words, people were put into bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Can the Executive give any more support to Highland Council to overcome those shortcomings?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I am aware of the number of breaches of the unsuitable accommodation order in the Highland Council area. However, I think that the most recent statistical bulletin shows that there has been a slight decrease in the number of breaches.

Communities Scotland is working with Highland Council to consider ways in which the problem of the provision of houses for homeless people can be resolved. We would like progress to be faster, but I reiterate that the money that has been made available for affordable housing in the Highlands has more than quadrupled since 1997-98 and that, since last year, there has been a 30 per cent increase in the housing investment programme. That huge investment in affordable housing in the Highlands will make a difference to people's lives.