As we move towards the end of the second session of Parliament, it is time to take stock of our many achievements on affordable housing provision. I begin by reviewing the difference that the Scottish Parliament's work has made. The legislation that we have passed on housing and homelessness in the past few years has entirely changed the face of Scotland's housing. As MSPs, many of us have experience of housing needs in our constituencies. Members know as well as I do that the range of needs is diverse and that they vary from one end of the country to the other. Our approach is not to consider subsidised housing in isolation but to focus on the whole housing market and consider where our interventions might work best.
We recognise the strong links between a sufficient housing supply and ensuring that no one is unintentionally homeless. That is why the 2012 target is a key part of our wider strategy for the supply of housing. No one should live in substandard housing. That is why we are working with social landlords to ensure that they can all deliver the Scottish housing quality standard by 2015. That is ambitious, but we know that it can be done. We have a full plan of work ahead and we are embracing the new challenges that arise. For example, it is clear to me that we must do more to improve the energy efficiency of both social sector and market housing.
Housebuilding in Scotland is in a healthy position. Our pro rata rate of housebuilding is high and it has consistently been higher than the rate in England for many years. The targets that have been set for England for the next 10 years only nearly match our current housebuilding rates. Our investment in social housing is also substantially higher per person. We know that high new-build levels are the key to meeting our commitments in the longer term.
Given the desire to create affordable housing, why are compulsory purchase orders used so little to release land for housing, particularly in pressured areas such as islands? In such areas, the demand for housing is ill met; demand can be as much as nine times the actual number of affordable new-build homes.
In rural parts of Scotland such as islands, spend has increased. Communities Scotland is working in creative ways with the Forestry Commission Scotland to release land. We are taking a number of actions and we will consider every option. We are very much aware of the housing pressures that exist in rural areas such as islands.
We are spending £1.2 billion over three years on affordable housing. This year alone, we will invest about £487 million, which will provide 7,100 homes. The additional £48 million that we announced last autumn is accelerating local projects and helping housing associations to acquire more sites for affordable homes. Our investment spans urban and rural locations. We know that rural areas have different building contexts, so we tailor our approach when we can. We have dedicated nearly 30 per cent of our programme—£139 million—to rural communities, including island communities.
No; I must make progress.
I referred to the forest land scheme, which I launched last year and which is another measure that is targeted specifically at rural areas. Surplus Forestry Commission sites are becoming available for affordable housing and will make a real difference in rural communities. I will be keen to see the outturn for the current financial year.
The homestake scheme is one of the successes of our recent work. The scheme, which is based on shared equity, is aimed at first-time buyers, but it can help others, too. In my first few weeks as Minister for Communities, I have seen the real difference that the innovative scheme is already making. The scheme has great potential and I cannot overemphasise its importance. In a recent visit to Inverness, I visited the house of Janet MacMillan, a 25-year-old nurse who, through homestake, has had the opportunity to get into the housing market. Our pioneering approach to shared equity allows flexible ownership stakes, which is what sets our scheme apart. We do not believe that we need one size to fit all, which is why we designed homestake so that it can be tailored to individual circumstances.
Two variants of homestake were launched in 2005. New-build homestake, which will obviously add to our overall new supply, has already been rolled out throughout Scotland, from Dumfriesshire to Thurso and from Aberdeen to Skye. The second variant, open-market homestake, was launched as a pilot scheme in Edinburgh and the Lothians. The open-market version allows buyers to purchase existing properties in the region. Both versions have been popular with buyers and registered
Another way in which we help first-time buyers is through our new single survey for house sales, which will mean that people will generally no longer pay for multiple valuations and surveys. That has the potential to save people hundreds of pounds in each bidding process for a property. The Scottish Consumer Council welcomes the new arrangements and believes that they will benefit buyers and sellers alike.
I would like to make progress.
Our affordable housing funding is being supplemented by the additional income from reduced council tax discounts for second and long-term empty homes. I am pleased that the majority of local authorities have realised the potential in the new powers and discretion that they have in relation to council tax. Nearly £15 million has been raised in the first year of the new arrangements. For example, since Highland Council reduced council tax discounts on second and empty homes to 10 per cent, it has raised more than £2.2 million.
Land supply and planning are hugely important to the provision of affordable housing. Ensuring that we have sufficient affordable housing is not just about investment; we must consider the housing market holistically, including the modernisation of planning and building standards. It is hugely important that we set the correct context for more new affordable housing to be delivered and delivered more quickly, which is why our reform of the planning system through the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 will reap benefits in affordable housing provision. Effective land supply for housing is vital. I cannot overstate the difference that the 2006 act will make. It will revitalise the development planning system, which lies at the heart of housing provision. The new arrangements for development plans will facilitate far more effective release of land for housing.
It will take time for the new requirements to be adopted, so we cannot simply sit back and wait for that to happen. We must do what we can in the interim to facilitate the required level of land supply. We set up the affordable housing working group last year to get the right people round the table to explore practical ways of enhancing land supply. The group has begun to do that.
The group reflects the people involved in delivering affordable housing—its
In November, we announced that we would review Scottish planning policy 3 on planning for housing. We will have a public consultation on the issue shortly. The review will look at securing more generous housing land allocations and faster land release. Another central issue will be the need to ensure that development plans identify sufficient land for housing where a need has been properly established. We will consider how guidance can more closely integrate housing needs assessments and development plans, and we will consider the role of ministers in intervening when development plans do not reflect housing needs. I encourage participation in the consultation and will be keen to hear about local experiences.
Our planning advice note for affordable housing—PAN 74—has been an important addition to our suite of planning guidance. It has set a benchmark: 25 per cent of all new housing developments are to be affordable homes. There are early indications that the 25 per cent benchmark is bringing greater certainty to development proposals and leading to fewer delays in negotiations. I have been encouraged to see a good number of local authorities embracing the principles of PAN 74. Those authorities are reflecting its ethos in their local affordable housing policies. Key players are taking hold of the tools in PAN 74. That is good news.
When I visited Perthshire earlier this month I went to the site at Oudenarde, near Bridge of Earn. Our land acquisition funding last autumn helped with its purchase. I have been struck by the suite of options out there, all ready to be used. At Oudenarde, a long-term strategy has been put in place. The site will be master planned and will have a mixed-tenure setting. In accordance with PAN 74, it will integrate tenures and make affordable housing a priority—and all this in an area with a right-to-buy pressured area designation in place to protect future stock. To me, that spells forward thinking and I commend the local partners for it.
I will touch briefly on sustainable housing. Sustainability is not an aspiration to which we can pay lip service; it is a principle that must be carried forward in everything we do—especially in our housing of the future. We are continuing to develop our package of sustainability measures for new buildings, including affordable homes. That is happening through building regulations, planning guidance and guidance to housing associations.
Since 2002, the building regulations will have reduced carbon dioxide emissions from new buildings by over 40 per cent. The new emissions targets are set at such a level as to encourage designers to make use of low-carbon or zero-carbon technologies, such as heat pumps and biomass boilers.
That the Parliament welcomes the importance that the Scottish Executive has placed on ensuring the provision of affordable housing across Scotland; notes the significant investment of £1.2 billion that is delivering 21,500 new affordable homes and the success of the innovative shared equity scheme, Homestake; welcomes the additional steps that have been taken to increase the proportion of affordable homes within new housing developments, and notes the intention of the Executive to ensure that affordable houses are also sustainable houses.
I confess to being astonished that the housing minister could present a debate on the Government's record in housing and could speak for 11 minutes without mentioning the Executive's flagship policy—wholesale stock transfer. Is wholesale stock transfer now the flagship policy that must not speak its name?
There have been five housing ministers since 1999—Wendy Alexander, Jackie Baillie, Margaret Curran, Malcolm Chisholm and now Rhona Brankin. They come; they go. Ms Brankin is likely to have the shortest tenure of them all.
The first line of the motion asks the Parliament to welcome
"the importance that the Scottish Executive has placed on ensuring the provision of affordable housing".
Did I blink and miss something over the past eight years of the Government? Is the minister not listening to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Shelter Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations or the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland? Is she not listening to councillors the length and breadth of Scotland? Is she not listening to her own back benchers and has she not read the Bramley report, which was commissioned by her immediate predecessor, Malcolm Chisholm, on the shortage of affordable homes in Scotland? Is the minister unique? Is she the only one among the 129 MSPs who does not see people desperate for housing at her surgeries? Young people and families are desperate for houses of their own or to leave behind overcrowded and damp conditions.
It does not matter where we go in Scotland, the story is the same: in rural communities, cities and small towns, there is a desperate shortage of decent, affordable accommodation. The Scottish National Party amendment is a reality check for
Let us examine the record of the Government's delivery on housing. The policy of wholesale stock transfer, which I have mentioned—although the minister did not—has failed. There has never been a plan B in place for when tenants say no, but the Government's greatest failure—no wonder she will not talk about it—is its failure to keep the promises that were made to the Glasgow tenants, who voted yes in the ballot in the belief that, as the Government told them, second-stage transfer to small-scale community housing associations would take place.
I have repeatedly said to the minister that all tenants have been more or less blackmailed into a yes vote. I have made it clear to ministers that they should have taken the time to work with the Treasury in London to ensure that the capital debt was written off for the tenants who voted no in the same way as it would have been had they voted yes.
The legislation on stock transfer that was passed before the 2003 election has not resulted in a single house being transferred from Glasgow Housing Association to a local community housing association. Not a single house has been built and, for some tenants, housing conditions are as bad as anybody can remember—if not the worst that anybody can remember. I can hear Des McNulty saying that that is rubbish, but he obviously did not see the television news item a few weeks ago about the woman who was living in the most appalling, damp conditions. Is he trying to tell me that that is acceptable?
In any and every ward in Glasgow that has social rented housing, substantial investment is being made in repairs and central heating. Huge amounts of investment are going into social rented housing in Glasgow. That is what the tenants there voted for and that is what they are getting.
Wait a minute: the minister did not address the stock-transfer policy in her
When Professor Bramley reported to Malcolm Chisholm, he highlighted the fact that—
No I will not. Professor Bramley highlighted the fact that, as well as a need for new affordable housing to keep pace with demand, there was a backlog to be tackled. Why does that backlog exist? It is because the Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive built fewer houses for rent between 1999 and 2004 than the Tories did in 1995.
No, I will not.
That statistic shows one of the reasons why there is such pressure now.
I find it hard to believe that the Bramley report did not take housing conditions into account when it assessed housing need, but the Executive asked Professor Bramley not to do so. In other words, provided a house was still standing, it counted towards the net surplus of housing, regardless of whether it was riddled with damp or had rats running under the floorboards.
The Bramley report is but one part of the equation of what needs to be done in Scotland. As we are all well aware, local authorities and housing associations are required to meet the quality standard by 2015. Many believe that they will struggle to do so and many more are preparing to demolish structurally safe houses because they do not have the money to renovate them. We have record numbers of people on housing waiting lists, more people are presenting as homeless and Shelter Scotland claims in its briefing that 8,000 households are in temporary housing—double the number in 2001—because of the shortage of suitable permanent accommodation.
The average age of first-time buyers is now 37. They are the ones who are being hit by the double whammy.
Okay. Many of those people are precisely the kind of people that Scotland needs—young graduates and families who want to put down roots.
I recommend that MSPs of all parties read the Hills report, "Ends and Means: The future roles of social housing in England", which was commissioned by Ruth Kelly. In effect, it says that people are going to have to be in real need to be able to get a social rented house in future. The mixed and sustainable communities that we want in Scotland will not be achieved by offering fixed lets for all in the public sector, then means testing people to see whether they are poor enough to stay in the houses or well off enough to have their tenancies terminated and be encouraged to go off and buy a home on their own. How is it possible that Ruth Kelly and new Labour so misunderstand the nature of communities and the fact that what people want most is a home that is safe and secure?
The SNP values the social rented sector and we will work closely with local authorities, which we see as the strategic force in identifying housing need in their area, and with other housing providers in the private and public sectors to assist them in the provision of good quality, affordable homes for all our citizens.
I move amendment S2M-5617.2, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:
"notes that between 1999 and 2004 fewer houses were built for social rent under the Labour/Liberal Democrat government than in 1995 under the Conservative government and that waiting lists and those presenting as homeless are at record levels; notes the failure of the Scottish government to keep the promises made to Glasgow tenants on second stage stock transfer, and considers that this Scottish government has failed to adequately address the housing crisis in Scotland."
We Conservatives consider the need for affordable housing to be among the top priorities for Scotland. We know that both the private and public rental and purchase sectors are under considerable pressure and are not able to keep up with the high demand, particularly in rural areas. First-time buyers in particular are under considerable strain.
The Executive's economic report for 2006 reveals that in the past year first-time buyer activity reached its lowest level in 25 years. The Bank of Scotland's survey showed that the average price that a first-time buyer pays for a home in Scotland went above £100,000 in 2006—which was an increase of 17 per cent from 2005
In addition, the Lib-Lab pact is failing those whom it claims to care about most, as homelessness continues to be a major problem, with almost 60,000 households asking for help—a rise of 46 per cent since Labour came to power in 1997. The real figure is estimated to be higher than that, because many people just do not appear in the statistics.
I will come to that point in a moment, when I will reply to the member fully.
The council house service is under increasing pressure, with the average debt per council house now at £5,500. Some 206,000 households are on Scotland's local authority waiting and transfer lists. Where does the money come from to deal with that? The situation has been made worse by the Government's failure to enable Scottish tenants to take advantage of housing stock transfer, with the disastrous four no votes in Edinburgh, Stirling, Renfrewshire and Highland, which have lost hundreds of millions of pounds from the Treasury—£300 million to Edinburgh alone. The tenants have lost the prospect of lower rents, the benefits of not-for-profit, community-run housing associations and greater investment. New investment can come only through increases in rents for all tenants.
In response to Brian Adam, I say that we whole-heartedly support the transfer of local government housing to communities in a way that means that they are run by local, accountable housing associations, co-operatives and companies, which is an approach that was started by our party when we were in government. Stock transfer makes housing officials more accountable to tenants and provides more local management.
That is not what I said at all. However, if the Government had gone about the
Audit Scotland's report on council housing transfers concluded that tenants are finding that the service that is provided after transfer is better and that new landlords are investing in the housing stock and keeping rent increases within agreed limits.
The Executive is now threatening the private housing market with the introduction of the single seller survey, to which we are totally opposed. We urge everyone to contribute to the Executive's consultation on the matter. The proposal is unnecessary and costly. The duty of care that is owed by the original surveyor to the original property owner is fine, but that does not transfer under the law. If someone is lending money on a property, they want to have their own, up-to-date survey carried out. The Executive's proposal is nothing more than a tax.
"cause difficulties for disadvantaged buyers and sellers who may be on low incomes and/or be buying or selling low value properties in areas of low demand."
I suggest that the minister read the submission in full.
In addition, Labour in London is now threatening us with the planning gain tax, which even the Executive has described as misconceived. On Tuesday this week, my colleagues in London attempted to ensure that it would be delayed so that the Treasury and the Scottish Executive could fully investigate the effects of the policy. Needless to say, however, the Labour back benchers in London turned down that attempt.
The policy will be a disaster for Scotland. It will centralise revenues and remove them from the local communities. There will be no local gain whatsoever. That will lead to a restriction in the supply of land and a disincentive to development. We oppose the tax and would like the minister to tell us what is going on in the Executive's discussions with the Treasury.
When we were in power, home ownership increased dramatically. We remain committed to the continuation of our landmark policy, which has done more to transfer power and wealth from the
I move amendment S2M-5617.1, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:
"recognises that the private and public rental and purchase sectors are under considerable pressure and are not able to keep up with the high demand for affordable housing, especially in rural areas; is alarmed that last year first-time buyer activity reached its lowest level in 25 years; regrets that the Lib-Lab pact has failed to enable Scottish tenants to take advantage of housing stock transfer and, over the last year, has overseen four 'no' votes in Edinburgh, Stirling, Renfrewshire and the Highlands and welcomes the Scottish Conservatives' support for housing stock transfer and the continuation of tenants' right to buy their local authority homes; is opposed to the proposal for the single seller survey as it 'will cause difficulties for disadvantaged buyers and sellers, who may be on low incomes and/or be buying or selling low-value properties in areas of low demand', as highlighted by the Scottish Consumer Council, and considers that the single seller survey is based on an inadequate pilot and is an unnecessary and costly intervention in a sensitive market."
The issue that we are debating is uppermost in everyone's mind, regardless of their political persuasion. I was reminded of that when I received an e-mail today on a subject that had nothing to do with this debate. It was sent by a constituent of mine, Paul Tait, who is a student in Edinburgh but comes from Wick. He said:
"since moving to Edinburgh and becoming a student, I have become disgusted at the level of homelessness seen every day while walking through the city. These people are no worse or better than you or I, their only fault is not being able to afford a semi-decent place to live."
Some months ago, as Rob Gibson will recall, I made a statement to the press that much of the problem was associated with land ownership and the lack of land that was being made available to be released. That was touched on in earlier speeches. I want to make it clear that the bogeyman is not necessarily the big landowner. Often, it is small pieces of land held in or beside communities that block development where housing could be useful. I can think of an example in my home town of Tain, where a piece of land is owned by a family but cannot be developed because it is landlocked. Who is it landlocked by? The local authority. Where is the sense in that?
I should declare the interest that members of my family have small units of land that could be developed into housing. I hope that, as local authorities take up their new planning powers, they will take an overview of the issue and be far more proactive in saying that certain pieces of land can be developed and in addressing the issues when they are not developed.
Only this week, I wrote to Highland Council on behalf of some constituents—a young couple who live in the former fishing village of Portmahomack on the Tarbat ness peninsula, which the minister will be familiar with. We have seen an astonishing increase in house prices in the Highlands, which means that, despite the fact that they both work, that couple simply cannot afford to get on the first step of the housing ladder. Coming from the Highlands, I believe that incomers are most welcome but local people also have a right to live and remain in the communities that they come from and love so well.
David Davidson will recall that, some time ago, I took issue with his colleague Mr Brocklebank, who said that if local people could not afford to live in St Andrews, they would have to move away. I submit that that is not a good argument.
A mixed bag of housing needs to be available in every community for those who wish to stay in the locality, whether they have jobs or are retired people who want to stay near families who can care for them, for example. We need a mix in the housing market.
I welcome that comment, and I trust that, if he has not already done so, Mr Davidson will share that sentiment with his colleague.
We cannot look at housing in isolation. The price increases for crofts in east Caithness are not just housing costs that local people cannot afford; they are surely connected to crofting legislation. When we revisit it, people such as John Farquhar Munro and I will wish to ensure that the raw beast that is market forces will be restrained in the price of crofting. That remains an issue, and we must remember that the question of affordable housing lies in the context of several other issues.
Parallel to that is what people from all political parties are doing their best to address in north Sutherland and Caithness—the question of what to do about the job losses that will flow from the running down of Dounreay. What is the socioeconomic strategy? It is self-evident that if we do not get it right, there will be no jobs for the people, so they will not need houses. That would be a double tragedy. Again—I am stating the perfectly obvious—affordable housing must be considered in the wider context.
I am sure that other members, including John Farquhar Munro, will mention the water problems.
I have one small point before my conclusion, which is about the sale in the Highlands of serviced plots by the local authority. That is laudable and helps people get on the first rung of the property ladder, but there is evidence that some of the plots were sold to people who already had property. Rather than a first step on the ladder, the plots were more an investment. That is not what Highland Council's aim was, so we need to be clear on that front.
I conclude on something that may interest the minister. In the north of my constituency, Dornoch forest district has constructed a large office complex from trees that have been felled at Bettyhill and moved only a short distance. It says that the pilot building can be replicated so that affordable housing is built in rural areas near where the wood comes from, which is precisely where we need housing. That is an example that could be examined by other Highland MSPs and the minister herself. That positive story could be a sign for which way to go in the future.
I shall listen to the rest of the debate with great interest. As I said at the start, it is a hugely important debate that is relevant to every person living in Scotland.
The opening words of Malcolm Chisholm's foreword to the Scottish Executive's "Homes for Scotland's People: A Scottish Housing Policy Statement" are:
"All of Scotland's people should have access to good quality, warm and affordable housing. Everyone has the right to a home—a space of their own where they can enjoy privacy and family life. Decent homes are essential to the health of individuals and to the well-being of communities."
I am sure that all of us agree with that. There should be no debate about the impact that good-quality homes can have on a wide range of social factors, from health and education to antisocial behaviour and community well-being. I have seen the transformation that has occurred in communities such as Petersburn in my constituency, and am convinced that improving housing and the landscape around it—which is important—can have a tremendous impact on how a community is perceived.
The Labour-led Executive has much to be proud of with respect to housing improvements since 1999. We have invested almost £2.7 billion in new affordable homes. From 2005 to 2008, we will have spent £1.2 billion to provide 21,500 affordable homes.
That investment is making a considerable impact in North Lanarkshire. Since 1999, investment there has totalled just under £99
In its briefing for the debate, the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland advocates a community environment standard. I sympathise with its intention, as it is clear to me from the work that has been undertaken at Petersburn that housing regeneration must be matched by regeneration of the physical environment. Clear evidence exists of the benefits that result from well-designed and well-used green spaces with play areas for children and informal meeting areas. Regenerating communities that have complex social problems involves more than simply building new homes and new landscapes, but rebuilding and renewing the built environment in partnership with the community can help to reinvigorate community spirit and pride.
One other benefit of building new houses is the opportunity that is afforded to ensure that they will be accessible for the disabled. I have been impressed by the design features in the new Link Homes houses in Airdrie, which enable people with disabilities to live much more independently. Basic features such as light switches and sockets at the correct height for wheelchair users and increased door widths help to ensure that those homes can be used flexibly without adaptations being needed at a later stage.
There is a legitimate debate to be had about the number of new affordable houses that are required, but it is important that we do what we can to make the current housing stock fit for purpose. That matter got a little lost in Tricia Marwick's speech. I welcome the Scottish Executive's long-standing commitment to ensure that no one has to live in cold and damp homes. The warm deal and central heating programmes have helped to keep more of our housing stock fit for habitation. Nearly £300 million has been spent on installing more than 77,000 central heating systems and insulating more than 231,000 homes. That is good news not just for individual tenants and householders, but for the environment. More efficient heating systems and better insulation mean a reduction in fuel consumption.
There are those who believe that all social rented housing should be provided by local authorities. I do not believe that there needs to be an either/or approach. North Lanarkshire Council is a well-respected landlord, with relatively low levels of debt and good-quality housing stock. Prudential borrowing has enabled the council to undertake a massive refurbishment programme, which will result in all post-war homes in the area getting new kitchens and bathrooms.
To conclude—although I had much more that I wanted to say—I believe that the provision of good-quality housing should be one of the key priorities for the Parliament and the Executive. The Executive has demonstrated its commitment to the creation of new, affordable housing where it is most needed in Scotland. The local housing strategies play a vital role in identifying the locations of greatest need, and they are helping to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Interestingly, the strategy in North Lanarkshire indicates that there is no overall shortfall in accommodation. Rather, there are specific areas of high demand, where our efforts must be focused.
We now have the tools to tackle the problem of affordable housing availability in Scotland and the Executive is committed to addressing the problem. I urge the minister to continue the drive to ensure that everyone in Scotland is able to live in a house that is both affordable and fit for purpose.
The Minister for Communities referred in her speech to subsidies for affordable housing. I want to be absolutely clear about that. Is she suggesting that council house tenants continue to receive subsidies from general taxation? As far as I am aware, that was done away with between 20 and 25 years ago, and the only parts of the housing sector that receive subsidies are non-council housing areas.
I am looking for pledges. In the event of a Scottish National Party-led Executive, will ministers be willing to restore the same financial support to local authorities as is currently enjoyed by housing associations? We have a good case in Midlothian, which I will put to the minister if I am lucky enough to be called to speak.
That is a useful ambition, but we have to work within the constraints that Gordon Brown has presented us with until such time as we get rid of the difficulties that are presented to all of
In his response to my intervention, David Davidson did not in any way commit himself to councils being appropriate landlords in the future. I am happy to say that I and, I believe, the SNP, see that case, and I hope that that offers Margo MacDonald some comfort. We have to be realistic about what is possible immediately after any election. In the long term, we would certainly hope to move to the position that Margo MacDonald suggests should exist. I certainly support that.
I am sorry to disappoint Mr Adam. If it has been proven that it is better for tenants to be involved in a housing association or community buyout, and if they are happier with that management style, which gives them democratic input—Labour councils in Scotland in particular did not give them that—he will have to convince me that I am wrong.
I firmly believe that David Davidson is wrong. In my experience as a public representative for close on 20 years, in any dealings that I had with councils, I could at least make representations on behalf of my constituents that might have some effect. However, when I was dealing with housing associations—in particular with Scottish Homes—I found it difficult to have any kind of input, as did those people whom I represented. The idea that housing associations are somehow by their nature more accountable is a fallacy.
No, thank you. I have taken quite a number of interventions and I would like to use at least some of the two and a half minutes that I have left to develop more arguments.
The city that I represent used to have more than 40,000 council houses, but now has 24,000. Just like everywhere else, most of the family-sized accommodation in Aberdeen—described there as "a door to yourself"—has been sold. That means that the many folk who are not necessarily homeless but who are housed inadequately and inappropriately and who aspire to family-style
People in Aberdeen have made it clear that they do not want stock transfer. A ballot was held in Aberdeen through which tenants groups, which Aberdeen City Council hand-picked, said that they did not want stock transfer, but the council persisted and spent several million pounds on the proposal, as has happened in other places. The money for ballots, consultation and consultants all came from tenants' rents. It did not put a window or a new bathroom in a house and it did not deal with dampness. All that it did was fulfil the doctrinaire policies that the Tories introduced and which Labour has continued, to drive out council housing arrangements for tenants.
In Aberdeen, stock transfer was rejected by 19 to one. Aberdeen City Council has ambitious plans to spend up to £1 billion on regeneration of significant areas that are run down, but it will try to persuade tenants again that stock transfer is the route to take. How many times do people have to say, "No, we don't want this," before the Government and councils listen?
We need a change of direction. The Treasury and Westminster require to change direction significantly or we need to cut the umbilical cord so that we do not depend on such a change being made. I strongly believe that the Government has failed to deliver on affordable housing and on social rented housing. We desperately need a change of Government and of policy.
As the minister is aware, the provision of affordable homes in the Highlands and Islands has not been easy or straightforward in the past 10 years. We have had to contend with the sale of council houses—even in areas that had only a handful and no land on which to build more—and landlords' reluctance to provide land for rural housing if they thought that housing would be sold at a profit outwith the community. Scenic areas and crofting areas have been under pressure from the second-home market and the lack of water and sewerage infrastructure has caused constraints, some of which are still with us. We have also faced the new and welcome homelessness legislation and increased in-migration.
More and more people aspire to own their homes, but many find it difficult to step on the
Considerable investment has been made in housing in the Highlands and Islands—investment has increased more than fourfold since 1997—and we have examined innovative ways to build affordable housing into general developments. Recently, I visited a site near Inverness where 2,000 houses are planned to be built in the next 10 years. Of those houses, 25 per cent—500—will be affordable. All those houses cannot be built in a week, a month or even a year, so we must ensure that we have plans for the future.
As the minister said, particular interest has been expressed in the homestake housing scheme, whereby Communities Scotland takes an equity share in a house but does not charge rent for that share, and the occupier owns 60 per cent of the house and can increase their share. Some schemes allow Communities Scotland to keep a golden share in perpetuity, which means that it has control of onward selling.
That philosophy is being applied in Dornoch, where affordable houses will be sold by local people to the housing provider at the valuation price, so that they can be sold on to other local purchasers. That is an extension of the rural housing burden that rural housing associations operate, which enables them to bank land that can be used in conjunction with rural home ownership grants. It underscores the principle that housing that is built with grants or subsidy should be subject to some degree of public control or payback to the public purse when sold on, and should not merely be sold on the open market.
Of course, not everyone wishes to buy, and it is important to have good-quality social housing for rent. A huge refurbishment programme has taken place in Highland but, unfortunately, it has been jeopardised by the tenants' recent no vote in the community ownership ballot. Highland Council did not make its case well. Trotskyist activists from the Scottish Socialist Party or Solidarity—I am not sure which, as they all seem the same to me, although in their eyes there is a big difference between them—as well as Scottish National Party fellow travellers knowingly misrepresented the case, telling people that their rents would rise if they voted yes. The tenants voted no, and their rents have already risen. Highland Council's housing debt has gone up by another £3 million, and the unspent balance of £21 million from the £50 million that was given as part of the community ownership programme will no longer be available. It is now doubtful that Highland Council will be able to bring its present housing stock up to standard by 2015 as required—including in relation to energy efficiency standards,
Does the member agree that, had the Treasury created a level playing field between councils and housing associations, Highland Council would have been able to write off its debt in exactly the same way as the housing associations across the Minch have done?
I do not agree. People cannot have their cake and eat it.
I ask the Executive to examine what can be salvaged in Highland from the no vote. Already I note a worrying trend of cost cutting by the Highland Council. The concierge service in the flats at the Ferry in Inverness, which protects vulnerable people such as young mothers who have escaped domestic abuse, has been cut. If community ownership had gone through, tenants such as those young women would have had real input into housing decisions that affect them.
I accept that absolutely. The same happened in Argyll and Bute, where there was a successful stock transfer.
There is increasing pressure on housing in urban and rural areas of the Highlands and Islands. The excellent homelessness legislation has given new rights to those who were previously the hidden homeless, and the increase in the Highland population has added to the pressure, although, statistically, migrant workers are not a big factor. We are developing innovative ways of overcoming problems. The Highland Housing Alliance banks land and matches it with appropriate housing developers to deliver social housing. Jamie Stone, who has left the chamber, should bring to the alliance's attention the land in Tain to which he referred.
We look forward to the committee of inquiry into crofting finding strategies to deal with the housing pressures that affect crofting.
Scottish Water constraints are working their way through the system, although serious problems remain, especially in Lochalsh.
Much work has been done, but housing pressure is a mark of the vibrant, expanding economy that the Highlands has become. We need to be aware that we will have to cater for an increasing number of people who wish to live, work and holiday in the area.
We all accept that housing is a basic human right. Since 1999, the Scottish Executive has shown its commitment to tackling the shortage of affordable housing by delivering funding for no less than 41,000 affordable homes. Recently, it committed a further £1.2 billion for the delivery of 21,500 new affordable homes by 2008.
A good example of the innovative solutions to Scotland's affordable housing problem that the Scottish Executive is considering is the homestake shared equity scheme, which members have mentioned. The scheme allows families to buy 60 to 80 per cent of their house, with the remaining share funded by a housing association.
However, in the Highlands we are fighting a losing battle. More people are coming to live and work in the north, which has led to vast house price inflation. Yesterday, the Highland Housing Alliance reported that the average house price in the Highlands has risen to £178,000. How are young people supposed to get a foot on the property ladder if property prices are at such a level? Susan Torrance, the chair of the Highland Housing Alliance, was not wrong when she described the situation as a "crisis situation". In Highland last year, 1,688 homes were built, but only 278 of those were affordable. That is an incredibly low number, compared with demand. Moreover, what is the definition of "affordable"? For a single person who earns £15,000 a year, not even £90,000 is affordable. We hear the word regularly, but no one seems to understand what is affordable these days.
We must consider additional ways of alleviating the problem. I am convinced that the creation of community land trusts would help. Last week in the Parliament I asked the Minister for Communities about them. In such schemes, land is owned by the community land trust and a prospective homebuyer buys a house, but not the land, from the trust. When the person wants to move on, the house is sold back to the trust at a price calculated using a predetermined formula. The house is therefore kept in the community.
Community land trusts have been successful in other countries, particularly the United States, but the approach has encountered problems here that the Scottish Executive urgently needs to address. First, potential buyers of community land trust houses are having difficulties getting high street banks to lend them money for mortgages. The problem is nothing new and is similar to that faced by crofters before they were allowed to decroft their land for house sites. If community land trusts are to work, the Scottish Executive must give the approach its full backing, which will send the banks a positive signal and, I hope, encourage
Secondly, land availability is a problem. The Scottish Executive could help with that. In the Highlands, there is no shortage of land owned by the Crown Estate, the Forestry Commission or the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department. Suitably sited Government land should be apportioned for the construction of community land trust housing, to help such projects to get off the ground.
In high-pressure areas, the Scottish Executive could consider setting up a scheme similar to the crofters building grants and loans scheme, whereby crofters receive a combination of grant and loan to build a home. First-time buyers could be offered a similar package, to get them off the ground. The idea is innovative and should commend itself to the Scottish Executive—particularly to SEERAD—the Crown Estate and the Forestry Commission, which are landlords of huge tracts of the Highlands.
Whatever the Executive decides to do about affordable housing, it must act soon. Innovative ideas and continuing financial support from the Executive will be needed.
I recognise some merit in the motion. I welcome its stress on the importance of ensuring the provision of affordable housing, and I recognise and welcome the shared equity schemes that have been introduced by the Executive, which build, I suggest, on a Tory embryo. However, the motion goes over the top in self-congratulation. I note that the SNP's amendment refers to the glory days of Tory housing management in Scotland. The SNP is right to highlight those glory days, which were 18 years of radical change and success.
I was not referring to the glory days; I was trying to make the point that the Government has fallen so far that it cannot meet even the targets that the Conservative Government set in 1995.
I sympathise with the member, although I am disappointed that she did not see those as glory days. This Labour-Liberal grouping has not delivered on the promises that were made in 1997 and again in 1999, at the start of the Scottish Parliament. If anything, we have gone backwards.
I have referred to the Tory glory days. I took great pleasure in seeing the statute of Margaret Thatcher being unveiled in the House of Commons yesterday by an old adversary, Michael Martin. We should all look back at her days and
There were problems then, but what disappoints me is that we see the same situation developing again now. While Alasdair Morrison is looking back at the situation then, he should look at the situation today and see that things, perhaps, are worse than they were then.
We should remember the changes that came about as a result of the right to buy. People invested in their homes once they purchased them, and we saw upgrading and uplift in housing schemes throughout the country. At the time, the housing of more than 60 per cent of the population was under the control of local authorities—in the main, Labour-led local authorities—and those people were, to a degree, dependent on their Labour councillors for the right to live within the four walls of what they called their homes.
I agree entirely with Margo MacDonald on that point. I was a councillor in the 1980s and I pressed for that, as I felt that it would have been worth while. To my mind, it would have been a kind of recycling. However, it was not just the Government that prevented that from happening; local authorities themselves chose not to reinvest in that way and decided that they would use the money for other things. Although the Government blocked that in part, it did not do so to the fullest extent.
Looking at where we are today, I believe that there is benefit in housing stock transfer. We should not look a gift horse in the mouth. I would welcome money from housing stock transfer being injected into Scotland's housing stock right now. It is of great regret that we have not gone down that line.
In my final minute, I will talk about first-time buyers, their aspirations and the fact that the housing market appears to have gone beyond them. There are issues that the Government could address. One of them—which no one has mentioned—lies in the taxation system, and it is the stamp duty that is associated with house values and is payable in many house sales today. The Government could consider changing that to ease pressures in the housing market.
Another scheme that is on parade at the moment, as David Davidson mentioned, is the proposal that house sellers will be required to provide an appraisal of the state of their house. There might be some value in the idea, but it is fairly minute and it needs to be balanced against the disadvantages. If sellers are required not only to invest in a survey but to make further changes to their house before they can put it on the market, the survey will simply add costs to the chain that will be paid by those who want to buy. In my view, the single survey will end up as a further disincentive to first-time buyers—
During this debate on affordable housing, I have wondered whether, if I was on the outside looking in, I would think that the Parliament's debate would change people's lives.
Having been made homeless twice and having experience of what it is like to not have anywhere to live, I know that homelessness has a fundamental human effect on families and children. A recent documentary that was based in England showed a family sitting in a bus shelter with nowhere to go and with kids who had just come out of school. That should not happen in the fifth-richest country in the world.
Why can we not build enough houses and have enough roofs over our heads for the population of Scotland? It is ridiculous that we are in that situation. We have 136,000 people—mainly families—on our council waiting lists. They are waiting for a home and somewhere to live—somewhere decent to live, I hasten to add. During the debate, and while listening to the minister, I asked myself, what is in this for them? Like Margo MacDonald, I am looking for pledges. However, the answer to the question is, very little. This debate has offered little to those who are waiting for a letter from the council or housing association to say that they have been given a house.
The minister announced £487 million to create 7,100 homes. By comparison with a waiting list of 136,000 people, the new provision is paltry. I do not know how the minister can say that the Executive has
"changed the face of Scotland's housing."
Yes, the Executive has changed the face of housing, but not in a good way.
Another contradiction is that local authorities, which have so many people on their waiting lists, will not build the houses to which the minister referred. As Margo MacDonald pointed out, local authorities are not allowed sufficient funding and are subject to stock transfer requirements. Although local authorities are allowed to borrow money, they cannot do so, because their borrowing constraints and their financial situation are such that they cannot borrow enough.
Since new Labour was elected in 1997, local authorities have sold off 160,000 houses that were previously in the social rented sector and built only 39,000. The Executive has presided over a situation in which, for every four homes sold under the right-to-buy legislation—which now extends to housing associations—only one house has been built. That has created a huge problem, which manifests itself in many different ways. For example, people now experience difficulties in getting on the property ladder as first-time buyers and there are soaring rents in the private sector.
I point out to Phil Gallie that the right to buy, which I have consistently opposed, was described by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations as the greatest threat to good-quality affordable housing. I firmly believe that. I concur with the SFHA.
The fact is that the Scottish housing associations are, basically, a product of the right-to-buy policy. They were established after the right-to-buy legislation commenced. They are the product of a Tory Government. They have been a beneficial step forward in housing provision.
The member will not be surprised to know that I do not agree with his point. Even if the SFHA was created as a result of that policy, and housing associations were created as a result of stock transfer, it does not stop them having a view on how policies affect affordable housing. Extending the right to buy even further to housing association tenants—and I live in a housing association flat—would be a massive mistake.
One of the reasons why house prices are soaring is that we do not have affordable housing. That has had a huge effect on the market. Although I am sympathetic to first-time buyers who are trying to get on the property ladder, the percentage of first-time buyers in the market has fallen in the past 10 years from 50 per cent to 20 per cent. The big question is, what happened to the other 30 per cent? Where are they living? If they cannot buy a house, many of them have to live with their parents or flat share in the private
Thank you very much, that is my next point. The SSP will campaign in the election in favour of building 25,000 new homes for social rent every year. We would cancel the housing debt of the local authorities, not just those that have gone for stock transfer, to generate £2 billion over four years. Developers in the Glasgow harbour area have built 4,000 units, only 40 of which are for social rent. Why did we not force the developers of that regeneration area to make available for social rent half of those houses, which are on public land? The SSP would enforce that in future. We would also introduce a millionaire's tax on all land and property valued at more than £1 million—even a modest land tax of less than 1 per cent would generate hundreds of millions of pounds for the rented sector.
Public housing is a huge issue and we will be at the forefront of campaigning for it in the election campaign.
As Karen Whitefield said, there cannot be a person in the chamber today who does not think that everyone in Scotland should have access to good-quality, warm, affordable housing. Along with good education, health and other core services, good housing has to be a basic tenet of any political party's beliefs. There is wide recognition that the Labour-led coalition has begun to make a difference by doubling investment in affordable housing since 2003. Since devolution, we have provided an additional 41,000 affordable homes, and in Stirling an extra 705 affordable homes. In total, the investment in affordable housing in the Stirling Council area is £37.7 million.
By the end of 2007-08, around £16 million will have been used for demolition and new build in the Cornton, Cultenhove and Middlemuir Road areas in Stirling. Additional investment will also bring much-needed new housing to Raploch, through the innovative urban regeneration company, as well as to other parts of Stirling. The Rural Stirling Housing Association has created developments in rural areas such as Aberfoyle, Balfron, Buchlyvie, Callander, Deanston, Drymen, Gargunnock, Gartmore, Killin, Kippen, Kinlochard, Strathyre and Tyndrum. In fact, two houses previously owned by Scottish Water will soon be opened at Stronachlacher, which was made possible through Scottish Executive funding.
The RSHA now owns and manages 430 homes.
However, in Stirling itself, waiting lists are still relatively high, although there are fluctuations and the active applicants list is down at the moment. The RSHA list now stands in the region of 800 people, which is substantially more than three years ago.
The on-going expansion of homelessness legislation will increase substantially the number of statutorily homeless people referred to the RSHA by Stirling Council in the coming years, which will mean that there is less ability to meet the needs of non-statutory cases on the waiting list, although it is likely that there will be some transfer between the two groups—more people on the list will apply and be accepted as homeless. It is also likely to result in a greater need to provide support to a minority of homeless households to enable them to sustain a tenancy. The resources for such support, through supporting people funding, for example, will have to increase to meet that need.
When asked to list some of the obstacles in developing local affordable housing, the RSHA said that, first, there was a general lack of available land for acquisition. Stirling is a very pressured housing market area, and the owners of developable land know that it can command a high sale price. As a result, the housing association finds it difficult to compete. The amount of money that the RSHA can offer for land on which to develop affordable housing is substantially less than the value it can fetch on the open market.
Under the affordable housing policy in the local plan for Stirling, a number of large sites designated for housing in the rural centres of Doune, Balfron and Callander must offer mixed housing and the developer must ensure that a percentage of that housing—usually 25 per cent—is affordable. That housing will usually be provided by the RSHA. However those sites are limited and simply form the bedrock for the development programme over the next five years or so.
Secondly, some settlements have infrastructure constraints. Although it continues to be difficult to secure an accurate picture from Scottish Water, it appears that sewerage capacity remains a problem in certain locations. I welcome the fact that more investment has been made in sewerage capacity, but there is still a large backlog of work that will likely take a long time to clear.
Thirdly, communities in Doune and Kippen, where future development is planned, recently identified the size of schools and the capacity of health centres as constraints. Indeed, I was alarmed to find out that Forth Valley NHS Board is not a statutory consultee on the planning application for housing in Doune. I wonder whether the minister will consider that particular loophole.
Fourthly, compared with prices in urban areas, it
Finally I want briefly to mention some additional points that councils made in response to a survey that was issued last year by the cross-party group on affordable housing. On whether they had conducted housing needs assessments and had then used their findings to state a quantified land requirement for affordable housing, councils told us that they had not conducted needs assessments in time to inform their current plans or that the assessments were not robust enough to inform policy.
Secondly, most councils told us that their principal policy was to obtain land for affordable housing as a proportion of market sector housing. However, none of them claimed—or offered evidence—that the mechanism was sufficient to meet local needs.
In response to our question whether councils had safeguarded land, as suggested in planning advice note 74, the vast majority of councils—even those that had or claimed to have a shortfall in affordable housing—said that they had made no such allocation. In fact, only a few indicated any interest in doing so.
Councils also raised a number of general issues. For example, some highlighted the problems in planning affordable housing developments under the current Communities Scotland regime and felt that planning policies are not meeting land supply need—
The list of issues goes on and on. At this point, I must thank Murray Tosh, who was largely responsible for putting together the cross-party group's report.
As the minister is aware, the affordable housing working group is carrying out some good work with all the main agencies, and I hope that it will soon come forward with changes to the guidance on Scottish planning policy 3. Indeed, the minister might want to address that issue when he winds up.
Although Perthshire might not immediately spring to mind in a debate on housing problems, the area is experiencing very significant difficulties, proof of which is the Executive's agreement to suspend the right to buy in certain parts of Perth and Kinross. The minister has already referred to that pretty desperate measure, which has been used to lock into place some protection for existing affordable housing stock in the area. In Perth and Kinross, pressured area status covers 21 letting areas, nine of which are in my constituency.
I think that we just might be starting to see the inevitable end of a policy—right to buy—that many of us warned would lead to the current problems. However, I am not going to indulge in a ritual bout of Maggie-bashing because, no matter which party has been in power, there have been serious housing problems for decades.
This has been a dispiriting debate. For once, I find myself in agreement with Frances Curran—I hope that nobody who has a serious housing problem is watching the debate.
I do not want to pretend that there have been no attempts to rectify the situation. The homelessness legislation is a case in point, and there is no doubt that there have been improvements over the years. The difficulty is that solving one problem simply led to others. My surgeries are full of people who are in despair because their position on the housing list is so low that there is no realistic likelihood that they will ever get a house in the social rented sector. All MSPs hear about that problem. People know that, unless they can show an extraordinary need that will bounce them up the list, they have no hope of getting a house. Much of what we do is an attempt to get them extra points on the list.
We hear stories about people who find ways of declaring themselves homeless so that they will move up the list, and about young people and families who are placed in wholly unsatisfactory temporary accommodation. In Perth and Kinross, the number of such people increased from 212 in 2003-04 to 759 in 2005-06. People are on the list for years. The social rented sector is now, in effect, emergency housing. Most others need not apply. Why? There are simply not enough houses to go round.
In Perth and Kinross, there are 7,888 council houses of various sizes, including sheltered accommodation. There are 4,179 people on the waiting list and a further 907 are waiting for a transfer. In 2004-05, there were only 569 vacancies, which went to the statutory homeless, transfers and some people from the waiting list. That is a turnover rate of 6.5 per cent, which
I have looked at the detailed local figures. By far the biggest problem is with the supply of one and two-bedroom houses. My guess is that that pattern will manifest itself throughout Scotland as families get smaller and as more people live on their own. What is happening in the marketplace? That is the other side of this very depressing coin. Perthshire has among the lowest wages in the country, so turning to owner occupation is not an option unless affordable houses are built that are within the price range of the low paid.
Are developers interested in building low-cost homes for sale? Are they hell. Perthshire is full of developments of three, four and five-bedroom houses at prices upwards of £300,000. I have no idea who buys them. I certainly could not afford them and, as everyone knows, politicians do not exactly count as the low paid. Furthermore, I have no idea where all the wannabe downsizing baby boomers will downsize to in 10, 15, or 20 years' time, so I can see yet another problem developing already. Can we get in front of that problem rather than let it overwhelm us later?
There are no council houses to rent unless someone is classified as homeless or has such serious medical problems that they jump the queue; and there are no affordable houses to buy, apart from the very council houses that, if they were sold, would exacerbate the problem. In addition to that reality, we now have pressured area status in significant parts of the council area in which I live.
There is some good news, of course. Some £900,000 that was raised through a reduction in council tax discounts on long-term empty and second homes is being used to buy land that will be earmarked for affordable housing development, but it is nowhere near enough. The consequences for my part of the world can be seen in its skewed demographics. There is a high level of out-migration among those who are most likely to be economically active. Young people leave in droves to go to university and college and are unable to come back even if they want to. Others, frankly, contribute to the problems of the inner-city areas that other members represent. I presume that the folk who leave my area and cannot move back to it end up in MSPs' surgeries in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The only way out of the problem is to build more houses. Despite Margo MacDonald's continual interventions, I do not care who builds affordable houses as long as they are built. They must be built both for rent and for sale, and they must be of
Roseanna Cunningham is right: many of the problems go back a long way and cannot be pinned wholly at the door of one particular Government. In the past few years, I have heard some members talk in glowing terms of a housing renaissance, whereas others have talked in scathing terms of a housing crisis. The reality is probably somewhere in between, but we should all acknowledge that steps have been taken.
The Executive and the Parliament should be proud of the homelessness legislation that has been put in place. The Executive certainly cannot be accused of ignoring housing issues, as it has repeatedly come to the Parliament with proposed legislation on housing issues. Throughout that process, the issue of resources has been raised in relation to support services, which have been mentioned, and to new build. However, it is not reasonable to accuse the Executive of ignoring the issues.
Across the political spectrum, there is now more understanding of and support for the principles of affordable housing, including those on affordable social rented housing and mixed communities, than was perhaps the case in the past, although understanding has not quite reached everybody. I remember asking one Glasgow housing developer whether there was an affordable element in a housing development on which he was working. "Absolutely," he said, "You would be surprised. Some of them will go for less than £200,000." Someone was missing the point, and I do not think it was me.
I put on record my support for the Executive's homestake initiative. If people want to get on to the property ladder, buy a house and feel a sense of ownership, but property prices are out of their league, a case can be made that they should be able to get into the market one step at a time, which is what the homestake initiative lets them do. I would like the open-market version of homestake to be rolled out. Ministers should accept that although helping 1,000 households is a good start, it is only a start. If the initiatives are taken further, we are in danger of stalling on other progress that we have made. I hope that members of the Executive parties acknowledge that if we handle the homestake initiative wrongly, we run the risk of damaging further the status of rented
I do not agree with everything the Scottish National Party says about stock transfer, but it is absolutely right that we must talk about the issue. It was a mistake for the minister to open the debate without saying anything about that. Ballots in four areas have resulted in no votes—in total, about 55 per cent of tenants voted against stock transfer. I would not call that a comprehensive rejection, but it is clearly a rejection.
Some people may like to airbrush this out of history but, in the vote among tenants in Aberdeen, in which there was a high turnout, the result was 19 to one—93 per cent—against stock transfer.
I will do my very best, Presiding Officer.
In response to Brian Adam, I think that the figure I mentioned is correct.
The problem with stock transfer is that the failure to deliver second-stage transfer in Glasgow and the conditionality of debt write-off stand as a great big advert against the process. It allows those who oppose community ownership out of principle and in all circumstances to make their case and to fling around inappropriate words such as "bribery" and "blackmail".
I will mention some initiatives that we could take further, but are not. We have to make much better use of existing housing stock. At the moment, with council tax discounts for single occupancy and for second-home ownership, we are encouraging exactly the reverse—we are giving incentives for low use of existing housing stock. A considerable number of properties are empty; we have to bring them back into use for families and individuals who need them.
I wish that there were more time to go into this issue in more detail. I have no doubt that we will discuss it again. I hope that the Executive will take note of Murray Tosh's motion on the target of 30,000, and I hope that members of all parties will be able to sign up to it.
Presiding Officer, I think that I am becoming able to predict the future: when you asked Patrick Harvie to trim his speech, I said that you would probably ask me to cut mine. I will try to go as quickly as I possibly can.
As has been said, safe, secure and affordable homes are fundamental to our health and well-being. They are fundamental to our children's general welfare and their ability to grow and develop and they are fundamental to the fabric of our communities. It does not particularly matter whether our homes are rented from a local authority, a housing association or a private landlord. It does not matter whether our homes are owned outright, are mortgaged, or are in a part-share property scheme. What matters is that our homes are safe, warm and dry; that costs are affordable; and that our homes are located in areas where we want to be. That is basic stuff, and stuff that I know we can all agree on. The difficult and challenging problem is getting to the stage where we can deliver all that. From comments in the chamber today, it is obvious that there will not be agreement across the parties.
I am proud to be in the party of government that has led the way in legislation aimed at providing rights for tenants, for home owners, for people who do not have a home to call their own, and for people who are homeless. We have set legislative foundations for landlords—whether they are public or private landlords—thus ensuring that landlords take their responsibilities and deliver for their tenants.
We in the Labour Party believe that all Scotland's people should have access to good-quality, warm and affordable homes. We will continue to listen to and engage with organisations such as COSLA, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland—to name but a few—who recently issued a joint statement on housing. Their aim in issuing the statement was, I am sure, to keep housing high on the political agenda. I support them in that. I am sure that their statement will help to shape and inform debate over the coming months. I also welcome their acknowledgement that we have come a long way in developing policies and in securing investment over the past few years. I support their call for continued and increased investment.
In my final couple of minutes, I would like to highlight some of the challenges in my constituency. If we use Professor Bramley's research and his method of calculating shortfalls in affordable housing, we see that North Lanarkshire Council does not have an overall shortfall in housing, but the reality in my area—Cumbernauld and Kilsyth—is quite different. We have a clear
To help to address the issues—in the Cumbernauld area in particular—the council is introducing an affordable housing policy. The policy will apply to new housing sites that are not currently in land supply or that do not yet have planning permission. The proposal is that 25 per cent of the land on new sites should be for affordable housing, either through provision on the site or through an initiative under which the council takes a commuted sum for reinvestment elsewhere in the Cumbernauld area. The council sees the project as a way of meeting demand in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth area, but it will need further support and guidance from the Scottish Executive. If the minister would engage with North Lanarkshire Council to develop the project, that would be welcome.
There is a lot more that I would like to say and I am sorry that I am not able to do so. We have to be realistic. I know that the minister, unlike others, does not pretend to have an elastic purse. Financial decisions must be based on the needs of communities. North Lanarkshire Council and Cumbernauld and Kilsyth in particular have a particular need. I ask the minister to look into that.
Like Cathie Craigie, I have no bias against any form of tenure. Every home should be secure and we should have a mixture of tenure, which is what I thought 30 years ago, when I was the director of Shelter. However, the need for rented accommodation is every bit as great as it was then. I agreed with the outline of the reasons Tricia Marwick gave in her speech, so I will not go into them.
I am particularly concerned about Edinburgh at the moment. There is such a boom in the city's economy, and house prices and land prices have gone so high, that we risk driving out all the people with the skills that we must have for a balanced community. By and large, those people will want to rent. Nobody who has spoken has defined affordability. Although homestake is a good idea for home buyers, a great number of the people whom we want to have in the city cannot afford to buy due to the current state of the private market. That is why I asked about the Edinburgh tenants who voted against stock transfer. Their wishes must be respected.
Edinburgh will come under dreadful pressure because it will have a gap of eight years between the demolition of some houses, which must be demolished, and the provision of other affordable
I commend to the minister the attitude of Midlothian Council. It is an honourable exception to the councils mentioned by Sylvia Jackson, which have perhaps not done all the homework that they should have done. Midlothian Council has 3,500 people on its waiting list, so it is building 1,000 houses and is going into partnership with other housing associations to provide 800 more. Conditions will be attached to the right to buy the houses that Midlothian Council builds and a higher minimum price will be asked for them. That council went ahead to identify the need and then acted; it did not sit around worrying about what was the correct thing to do.
The Treasury has a large part to play in addressing the problem. The Auditor General said that there is no difference between writing off the debt that local authorities have incurred if tenants agree to stock transfer and not writing off the debt if tenants say that they prefer to stay with the local authority. I make a plea for the Treasury to address the issue, and ask for a better reason for not writing off the debt than we have had to date.
I will crack straight into the main point that I wish to make. Five major bodies that are involved in the same sector of activity agreeing is a big event in Scottish history. That is what has happened: the five main organisations with a housing interest—COSLA, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland and the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, some of which are housing providers—all agree that we must build 10,000 affordable houses a year. That figure is similar to the 30,000 houses over three years that has been mentioned, but the housing organisations have pitched their figure at 10,000 a year, and we must pay attention to them.
As we all know, the position is variable, and the organisations suggest that the new building must be targeted. Some areas have problems, whereas others do not, so we must have local solutions, not simply a blanket approach. The increase on the 6,000 or so homes that the Executive is going for would not cost much because a considerable sum of private money that could go to housing associations would be levered in. That would mean that we could get the increase for which the housing organisations are calling affordably.
Producing such a number of houses would accommodate homeless people without constantly giving them more and more of the overall number of available houses, which means that people who are not homeless never have a hope. We should focus on the figure 10,000 houses a year, on which the people who know about housing all agree, which is miraculous.
If a council has a fairly cynical view on life, it thinks that it pays not to use land for social housing but to sell it off to builders to build mansion houses for people who will pay lots of council tax and not pose a problem for local services. We need to apply a test of maximum public benefit from the use of the land, rather than just consider what will fetch the highest price. So much of our approach to best value is focused purely on money, but all sorts of values come into it. Housing has an effect of people's health, employment and behaviour, and on transport and recreation, all of which have a monetary value that we should take into account in dealing with allocating land for housing.
Other members have alluded to the problems that we have to sort out. The right to buy has to be reined back even further. Some councils favour demolition, but that is a negative solution that does not deliver what they think it delivers, which is better value.
There is the endless argument about stock transfer. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the idea has not been sold to a lot of people. Tenants see themselves as being punished for voting no, which is quite wrong. The Executive must treat tenants fairly, regardless of whether they accepted the idea of stock transfer. It has to find more clever ways—which the Treasury will accept—of supporting people who did not go for stock transfer.
We must listen to the tenants more. We are still not as good at listening to people as we should be. It goes back to local solutions. If councils and the Executive listen to tenants, we will get better solutions than we will get from people such as me pontificating. Let us listen to the people who know about the problem and suffer from it.
I am told that quite a lot of social rented housing is superior in quality to some of the private housing that is being built. By and large, our housing industry delivers pretty poor-quality stuff compared with what is produced on the continent—I am thinking of energy conservation measures and so on. I hope that we can attend to that and produce worthwhile houses as well as more houses. Above all, let us unite around the 10,000 houses a year figure, which the people who know about housing really think we need.
When I first heard that affordable housing was to be debated, I was considerably interested. I wondered whether we were going to hear about some spellbinding Executive initiative. Unfortunately, that has turned out not to be the case.
Scotland's housing—and affordable housing in particular—might not be facing a major crisis yet, but there are real problems. This afternoon those problems have been graphically illustrated—they are comprehensive and widespread and affect both urban and rural communities and both the public and private sectors.
The picture of Scottish housing is not one of unremitting gloom, because good things have happened. I give the Executive credit for the Glasgow stock transfer, which I thought was a good thing to do at the time, and I remain convinced of that. What has gone wrong since is that we have not delivered the secondary transfer.
Let us deal with the private sector first. One inevitably indulges in personal reminiscences in these debates, but when I bought my first flat—a one-bedroom flat in the west end of Glasgow—I paid £11,700 and some odd change for it, which was about two and a half times my annual salary at that time. To buy that flat today, one would have to be earning in excess of £50,000 a year. I venture to suggest that not many young men or women in their early to mid-20s are earning such a salary. A problem is developing and it must be addressed sooner rather than later, or it will become a major issue.
To paraphrase John Farquhar Munro, how affordable is affordable? Basically, some of the costs that are going to be incurred by first-time buyers make buying simply not economically viable for them.
Karen Whitefield rightly said that the impact on communities of good housing can be spectacular and that it should be one of our key priorities. We must focus on how we are going to advance the arguments around housing.
Some good things have happened in housing. I would fight to the death to defend the view that some of the legislation that was introduced by the Conservative Government, such as the Tenants' Rights, Etc (Scotland) Act 1980, did wonderful things for housing in Scotland and brought about a remarkable change for the better in a number of housing estates. Further, we have seen the growth of the housing association movement, which is one of the great success stories in post-war public sector housing. I know that Linda Fabiani, who was involved in that movement for many years, will totally agree with me in that regard.
That is why it is desperately disappointing that we have not advanced the secondary transfer in Glasgow, which has undoubtedly impinged on the ballots that have been held elsewhere in Scotland—particularly on the Edinburgh ballot. Tenants who are given control over their housing future will act responsibly and are aware that that will result in cheaper rents. When all tenants are in that position, we will finally have done away with the dead hand of council housing departments, which are completely out of touch with their tenants' ambitions and aspirations.
In the past 10 or 15 years, only two housing associations in Glasgow have got themselves into difficulty—Mr McNulty can correct me if I am wrong. The rest have been a success, some of them outstandingly so. We must move that situation on.
As the Minister for Communities said, money has gone into housing in Glasgow in particular. I freely and frankly acknowledge that, although I am sure that she will freely and frankly acknowledge that I wrote to her some weeks ago to express concern about how that money was being spent. That is why I feel that, if we had been at the secondary transfer stage, there would have been much tighter control over the way in which that money was being spent and we would not be hearing the loud and clear allegations of waste and of unnecessary work being carried out.
Two things have been remarkably absent from the debate. First, there has been only a brief mention of the effect of the single seller survey, which is an idea that is superficially attractive but which is simply not going to work. It will impede the sale of housing and impact on the ability of those on lower incomes to buy and sell houses. The second thing is the potential impact of the planning gain supplement, which is hanging over the future of Scottish housing like the sword of Damocles. No one has dealt with that in the debate. I know that the Executive set out its objections to that proposal in a response that it issued some time ago, but it must do something to move the situation along and get answers from the Treasury. If it does not, there will be problems ahead.
I declare my membership of the Chartered Institute of Housing.
I am a wee bit worried by the fact that I have to agree with something that Bill Aitken said. Like him, when I read the Executive's motion, I thought that it was so bland and weak that the Executive must have something up its sleeve and that we were going to hear a big announcement that would
I must also say that whoever wrote the minister's speech or directed its content is not taking the housing debate in this country seriously enough. It was complete nonsense. We have heard for years about some of what she was saying. There was nothing new at all. We have heard before about how we have to focus on the whole market holistically. She also said that we should consider intervention when required—I find it worrying that, eight years down the line, we are still considering that approach. She said that the Executive is going to look at energy efficiency and building regulations. The Executive has had two chances to beef up building regulations—for example, to meet the lowest standard of sustainable housing in Scandinavian countries—but the Executive parties knocked those chances back. Now we are to look at them again.
Of course, it is not all bad. Looking at the market holistically is going to incorporate looking at land, infrastructure, supply and planning—we are "going to" do that, eight years down the line. The Executive's homestake programme is great, but I must say to Phil Gallie that the Executive is not building on a Tory embryo when it looks at shared equity. In the mid-1990s, when I was with Bute Housing Association, we tried that to take that approach in Argyll, but the Tory-run Scottish Office would not let us because it said that it would interfere with the free market. There is no Tory kudos for that programme.
The minister even said that the single survey was making a difference. I hope that it will make a difference, but it certainly is not making a difference yet, because it is not operational—we are still waiting for it to be introduced. It strikes me—again—that the Executive has a terrible habit of announcing that something is going to happen and then behaving as if it has already made everything fine. The Executive has not made everything fine, and eight years down the line, we are still talking about plans.
Tricia Marwick was right that a lot is not said in the Executive motion. For example, I am stunned that prudential borrowing—another great housing initiative that was mentioned two or three years ago—was not mentioned today. Many members have asked about the rights of councils to provide and build housing, and when Margaret Curran answered the same questions a couple of years ago, she referred to the wonderful new prudential borrowing initiative. Will the deputy minister, in his summing up, tell us where we are on that? Margo MacDonald told us about the good example from Midlothian Council, but what about the others? Have other local authorities been encouraged to borrow prudentially and provide houses?
What can I say about stock transfer? It was not even mentioned in the Executive motion or the minister's speech, despite clearly being in the amendment lodged by Tricia Marwick. The story of Glasgow is very sad. People were promised second-stage transfer; Wendy Alexander, the minister at the time, said that there was no plan B; and Malcolm Chisholm said a couple of months ago that there was no black hole. I can tell the chamber what there is none of—there is no second-stage transfer in Glasgow.
We keep hearing from Labour and Liberal members about how wonderful community ownership is. Karen Whitefield expounded on the value to communities of taking control and what can happen in communities they take control. Community ownership has been happening for years, but the problem is that it needs to happen a lot more quickly. There is nothing new in the policy, as housing associations and co-operatives have been following it for years. We just need to step up the pace. Part of that involves organising what was promised to Glasgow tenants—second-stage transfer.
Perhaps if the Labour Party had listened to the SNP when Parliament debated the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 and enshrined in legislation the right of communities to community ownership, people in Glasgow might have had something by now. However, the Labour and Liberal Government knocked back enshrining in legislation the right to community ownership. I have never understood why it is that, although Labour municipal politicians have no problem with community ownership on islands and in rural areas, there is a big problem when it comes to urban areas and town centres, where they do not want to allow it.
In 2001, Labour and the Liberals also knocked back the right of people co-operatively to own their houses. In fact, co-operatives have had to change their status to continue to operate. The Labour Party is full of people who jump up on their hind legs and tell us what great stalwarts of the co-operative movement they are, but they will not allow tenants the right to own their houses in co-operatives. That is very strange.
The Executive's motion says nothing. Eight years down the line, it says what the Executive wants to do. The SNP's amendment states:
"this Scottish government has failed to adequately address the housing crisis in Scotland".
It has clearly failed to do that. I ask members please to support our amendment.
It is clear from what members have
The SNP has demonstrated the complete incoherence of its views on housing. The different approaches of its members show that it is all over the place, as it has been for a long time.
I want to make a few things clear. Housing is crucial to sustaining Scotland's economic growth, and warm and safe affordable housing is crucial to families, particularly families with young children. If we are to achieve our ambition to have a smart, successful Scotland, housing must be a top priority. Every political party that is represented in the Parliament should adhere to that view.
If housing is a priority, there must be substantial expenditure on it. Indeed, there has been unprecedented expenditure on housing. Perhaps £487 million is very little to Frances Curran, but it is a substantial amount of money to me. That kind of money is being spent year after year. During the current spending review period, £1.2 billion—an unprecedented amount—will be spent.
Phil Gallie said that more houses were built in the Conservative years. I want to correct that. The reality is that the number of houses that are being built this year is equivalent to the number of houses that were built in the peak year for house building—1995-96—in the Conservative period. Over the extended period, there is a substantial investment programme for new housebuilding in Scotland.
The story does not end there. There is also a substantial house refurbishment programme. Bill Aitken and I were councillors in Glasgow during the 1990s, when very little money was made available to spend on the house repairs that were needed. At one stage, quite a lot of money was made available for upgrading the appearance of properties, but there were serious problems with dealing with the fabric of houses.
Some £1 million is now being spent every other day in Glasgow. Money is being spent wherever I go there, and houses are being brought up to standard. We are talking about 22,000 new kitchens and bathrooms and 28,000 central heating systems in Glasgow. We have almost reached the stage at which every public sector house—whether it is a GHA house or a house in the community-based housing association
There have been fantastic changes in people's circumstances in Glasgow. Real differences have been made to the living conditions and circumstances of old people, young people and families, and to their and their communities' outlooks. Those changes are tied in with the other improvements, in health and jobs, for example, that are transforming Glasgow. I am proud of what has been done. I am proud of the fact that the Executive has bitten the bullet and taken the step that needed to be taken to lever in the money that was needed to transform Glasgow.
Such a transformation should be taking place in other places in Scotland. Indeed, it is happening—people voted for it recently in Inverclyde, and Argyll and Bute has also voted for housing stock transfer. In areas where stock transfer is on-going, substantial transformations are being made.
I will not comment on people's rights or their expressions of preference in other areas but, in Edinburgh, tenants voted against stock transfer. I say that their rights must be respected and that they require equal treatment—given what they would have been entitled to had they voted for stock transfer—in relation to the Treasury write-off of the debt.
The people in Edinburgh had a choice, and they made their choice based on their assessment of the prospects. I think that they did not make the correct choice. The offer of new investment in Edinburgh was excellent. Arguably, it was the best offer that has been made to any area of Scotland. I very much regret the fact that people in Edinburgh did not take the opportunity to bring about that transformation.
May I carry on?
The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 followed up on the recommendations that had been made by the homelessness task force, which carried on from the work that had been done through the rough sleepers initiative. The legislation has transformed people's circumstances. I remember going round the Great Eastern Hostel in the late 1990s, looking at the circumstances in which people lived. We should look at the circumstances in which people from that section of society are living now. It has been a fantastic transformation, which I am very proud of. I deeply resent the fact that the SNP denigrates that sort of achievement.
We have to do our best to take the arguments forward, and the arguments that have to be taken forward on homelessness must involve creating the right balance between homeless people, existing tenants and the affordability of all our other aspirations. That is the task of Government. We will not step away from trying to tackle homelessness; we will press ahead with giving people the housing rights that they ought to have, and we will do that in a properly considered way that balances everybody's interests. It is important for us to take that stance.
On the increase that we have achieved in the number of houses that are being built, I believe that the number will continue to increase not just this year, but next year, and I hope that increases will continue during the next spending period.
I welcome the minister's reference to the number of houses that are being built. He might recall joining me in a members' business debate during which we tried to persuade Malcolm Chisholm to do something about the acute difficulties in areas such as East Lothian, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and Edinburgh. What can the Executive do to help release land to enable local authorities in such areas to build the houses that are so urgently needed?
The Executive has already introduced a system that requires councils, when considering new housing developments, to reserve 25 per cent of the houses for affordable housing. That is a significant step forward, but we must consider the matter again. I am very much aware of the particular problems that exist: John Home Robertson is aware of the problems in East Lothian; I face them in East Dunbartonshire; and Sylvia Jackson faces them in Stirling. I am sure that the same applies in several areas of Scotland—Roseanna Cunningham made the same point. There are genuine problems in particular parts of Scotland.
We are making significant progress. We should consider the amount of investment that there has been in rural areas. In the Highlands, for example, investment in affordable housing has increased fivefold over the past four years. That is a huge increase. The Highland Council is developing its position by
All members attending this debate, if they are honest, recognise that politics is about choices, but we need to make the right choices. The choices that we need to make are choices for the future of our economy and the future of our people.
We need to provide affordable housing sponsored by government. We also need to encourage the private sector to provide a range of houses—not just expensive houses, as Roseanna Cunningham said, but houses that are more readily affordable to people who are on normal wages. We need to continue to tackle and to focus on the problems of homelessness, but we also need to focus on tenants' rights, including their right to live in a safe and comfortable environment. We need to keep investing in warmth and comfort in people's houses and in refurbishment.
All those issues must be kept in balance. The Executive has spent the money wisely and will continue to make money available to meet our objectives. I am delighted to support the motion.