I, too, thank Foysol Choudhury for lodging this motion for debate. There is no doubt that, in the 12 years that I have been an MSP representing the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, housing—and, in particular, damp housing—has been the number 1 issue for my constituents.
Given the numerous cases that my staff and I have raised with the City of Edinburgh Council and Link PSL with regard to the condition of some properties in my constituency, including the Wester Hailes area, I welcomed the announcement in March 2021 that the council was piloting its new mixed tenure improvement service to upgrade all 1970s-built flats in Wester Hailes. That £30 million improvement scheme, which applies to almost 1,300 homes across 167 blocks of flats, is now well under way in the Murrayburn, Hailesland and Dumbryden areas. Work on each block includes repair or replacement of roofing, guttering, drying room facades, installation of external wall and attic insulation, as well as maintenance and decoration of the communal stairwells and closes.
Although most residents were pleased that the upgrade was happening, there was a large financial penalty for the 29 per cent of homes that were privately owned. Owner-occupiers were initially asked to contribute over £30,000, which many found was simply unaffordable and the only option available to them was to sell their home back to the council.
I was approached by several owners at the time and, by working with council officials, we managed to identify that substantial untapped funding for owners was available through the Scottish Government’s home energy efficiency programme grant scheme. We also highlighted to the council that, in comparison to other city councils, the loan period was too short and the interest rates were too high. The outcome was that the loan period was extended from 10 to 15 years and the interest rate was cut from 6 per cent to 4 per cent. The result was that my constituents saw their bills for the improvement work drop by at least 50 per cent.
Phases 1 to 4 have been completed, covering 484 flats and 18 houses, and those streets now look vibrant and modern with residents benefiting from warmer and more energy-efficient homes. The common areas between the blocks have yet to be upgraded but my understanding is that council plans are under way to further enhance the area with new play areas, upgraded landscaping and improved car parking.
Given the energy crisis of the past couple of years, it is important to measure how the energy efficiency measures are performing. Many residents have agreed to have Tinytag loggers installed in their homes to enable moisture and temperature levels to be measured and to track the energy efficiency of their homes.
The early indications of the energy efficiency of the refurbished homes are encouraging, with residents highlighting that their homes heat up quicker and stay warmer for longer, and that they do not need to have the heating on for as long or as often as they did prior to the works. There are also financial savings: one tenant said that she did not switch on her heating at all last winter and believes that she has saved about 80 per cent on her heating bills. The homes in the completed phases are now reaching an average EPC rating of B, which is equal to new-build standard and is higher than the current Scottish average EPC rating of D.
It is a hugely successful improvement programme that I believe should be not only replicated across my constituency but rolled out across all social housing in Scotland. I welcome the minister to his post. If he has not yet seen the improvements that are under way in Wester Hailes, I invite him to visit my constituency to see what can be achieved to tackle the issue of cold and damp homes.