I am going to talk about a serious issue, so I ask that I be given the courtesy of being allowed to do so.
When I met a housing development company a few weeks ago, it raised with me a live application that it has for 900 new houses to be built. The developer had hoped that the application would have been determined by last Christmas but, as yet, it has not been. The developer did not complain about the planning process holding up the work; the problem is the lack of front-loaded capital that is needed to build a new £8 million school as part of the section 75 agreement. The developer cannot afford to front-load that level of investment, nor can the council. I was told that that is not uncommon and that the issue is a real barrier to new housing being built.
Does the First Minister recognise the problem? Does the Government have any plans to address it and get new housing development happening across Scotland?
I thank Alex Rowley for raising that issue. I am sure that he appreciates that, without further detail of the project and the application that he is talking about, there will be a limit to what I can say by way of a detailed response. If he wants to share more detail with me today or write to me after First Minister’s question time, I will make sure that the matter is properly looked into. That said, if the application is live, there will be a limit to what I can say, because due process must take its course.
The general issue that Alex Rowley raises is one that I recognise and one that the Scottish Government works to address. There are often limitations around infrastructure when there is a desire for housing developments to go ahead. That is why the Scottish Government introduced the housing infrastructure loan fund, which is specifically designed to deal with those limitations and bring about the provision of the infrastructure—whether that is schools, hospitals or health services—that is often required to support new housing development.
We will continue to take action to address those concerns and, as I said at the outset of my answer, if Alex Rowley wants to provide me with more detail on the application that he is talking about, I can make sure that that is fully looked into and we can consider whether there is any more that the Scottish Government can do to assist.
It was the general principle that I was asking about. I highlighted one case, but I am told that such situations are not uncommon. The lack of infrastructure is holding up development.
Private sector new build is one part of meeting housing need in Scotland. However, the number of people who live in the private rented sector has risen dramatically over the past two decades. With little regulation, rents have also shot up in the sector. The cost of rents often bears no relation to the condition and value of the properties that are being rented. Indeed, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that the proportion of people who are classed as being in poverty who live in the private rented sector has almost tripled.
Does the First Minister recognise the issue? Is she willing to look at what can be done to address it? Will she consider some form of rent controls?
Alex Rowley will recall that in the previous session of the Parliament, if memory serves me correctly, legislation was enacted that allows action to be taken where local authorities consider that there are problems with excessive rent increases. The Parliament has already acted to introduce some form of rent control provision.
Of course, we will always consider whether there is a case to go further, because, as Alex Rowley rightly said, and as we saw from the Scottish household survey, which was published just this week, the number of people who are living in private rented accommodation is increasing, and it is important not just that private rented housing remains affordable for people but that we take action to ensure that such housing is of a high quality. As someone who represents an urban constituency, I am very well aware of the importance of both those things.
On housing generally, we are investing record sums, as I hope that members across the chamber acknowledge. Over the course of this parliamentary session, we will invest £3 billion in creating 50,000 more affordable homes. On house building completion, we are building houses at a faster rate than any other part of the United Kingdom is doing.
That is the record of this Government, and we will continue to do everything that we can to build on it.
I have continued to welcome what has been getting done, but given the scale of the housing issues, we clearly need to do more.
We are moving towards winter, when the poorest people, in the poorest housing, face the greatest challenges. Energy Action Scotland says that as many as a third of private rented sector tenants in Scotland are in fuel poverty—almost double the figure for people who have a mortgage. The Government has said that it will introduce a warm homes bill, and earlier this month I co-chaired a meeting with Jeane Freeman and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on benefit take-up. What else can be done to help the poorest people, in the poorest properties, this winter?
There is a range of things that can be done—and are being done by this Government. They include, first, continuing to talk to the power companies, to make sure that people, and particularly those on the lowest incomes, are given a fairer deal than has often been the case in the past.
Secondly, there is continuing action to improve the energy efficiency of our housing stock. This Government, unlike other Governments across the UK, has invested heavily in improving energy efficiency standards; a large number of homes have had energy efficiency measures installed, supported by Government funding. Also, we can make sure that we have in place fuel poverty targets that are helping to address the issue. That is why the warm homes bill to which we committed in the programme for government is so important.
Those are all vital issues. As I hope that Alex Rowley and others will acknowledge, this Government—I think that I can say this without fear of contradiction—is doing much more in the area than any other Government across the UK and will continue to do so.