New Housing (Town Centre First Approach)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th May 2022.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support a town centre first approach to the development of new housing. (S6O-01111)

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Our joint response with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to the town centre action plan review outlines actions to embed a town centre first approach. It includes a call to action and sets out ways in which we can all play our part in rebuilding, re-energising and reimagining our towns. We are fully committed to the town centre first principle and continue to engage with partners on it. The principle influenced the development of our draft national planning framework 4 and “Housing to 2040”, both of which will help to deliver more town centre living.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

The recommendations in those documents are certainly very welcome, particularly the proposal for a new fund to bring empty properties back into use. However, does the cabinet secretary accept that one of the real problems for social landlords, for example, is that developing a brownfield site is more expensive than developing a greenfield site? Therefore, when it comes to allocating funding for new housing, a bias towards additional funding for those more expensive brownfield sites is needed in order to attract social landlords to build their housing in town centres rather than on a greenfield site, which is the cheaper option.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I recognise some of the issues that the member describes. It depends on the site. Some brownfield sites have flooding or decontamination issues, but not all do. It is right that we encourage development and, in particular, that we encourage social landlords to develop on brownfield sites, so we will obviously do what we can around that.

It is important to recognise that there is already a commitment on place-based investment programme funding, which is backed by £325 million during this parliamentary session. We also have vacant and derelict land funding, which includes the £50 million low-carbon vacant and derelict land investment programme.

The fourth national planning framework—NPF4—will also help with town centre living. Post-pandemic, there may also be an opportunity to repurpose some commercial and retail properties in town centres, which will obviously help with the affordable housing supply programme. I am happy to keep speaking to the member about these matters.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

At the Heart of Economic Transformation: Report of the City Centre Recovery Task Force, 2021-22

” has some useful and welcome suggestions on restoring domestic living that have a good read-across to support for housing in our town centres. For example, the nine recommendations in chapter 4 of that report include some that relate to “taking on challenging sites”, “brownfield development” and “flexible planning”. Can the cabinet secretary advise which of the nine proposals regarding residential living in city centres could be readily applied to town centres? Will the Scottish Government commit to looking at those recommendations in relation to town centre housing development?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Yes, absolutely. Again, I am very happy to keep Fiona Hyslop appraised as Tom Arthur, who has responsibility for many of the issues, and I consider those matters.

Our second town centre action plan outlines actions to embed the town centre first approach. It is absolutely critical that we join the dots across all elements of Government policy, not least our net-zero ambitions.

I am happy to keep Fiona Hyslop appraised of developments as we move forward on the recommendations.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary referenced Tom Arthur, who recently visited Galashiels and Penicuik town centres, in my constituency, where he saw the work of local people. Will the Scottish Government liaise with local development trusts such as Energise Galashiels, which are looking at repurposing commercial properties for domestic use?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I am aware of Tom Arthur’s visit, and Christine Grahame makes an important point

. I am very happy to commit to liaise with local organisations, which know the opportunities in their areas better than we do. It is important that we try to ensure that we take the opportunity to create more affordable housing in our town centres, which also helps with their regeneration. As I said, we need to join the dots across various policies. Again, I am very happy to liaise with Christine Grahame about those matters.