The Scottish Affordable Housing Debate

flats to let

Last week I facilitated a seminar for the Royal Town Planning Institute in Glasgow to discuss these thorny issues. What follows is a summary of the presentations at the start of the evening. I found them interesting: I hope you do too.

The massive gulf between house prices and average incomes means that housing is now at the top of the political agenda. The government’s recent consultation paper proposes a number of measures to tackle the crisis, including increasing house building rates back towards the numbers being built in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Will the government’s proposals sort out the crisis? What more needs to be done? And how can planning help?

Liz Shiel of Tribal Consulting, author of recent government research on affordable housing and planning, and Gavin Corbett (Head of Policy at Shelter Scotland) helped around 30 of us get to grips with these issues with insightful presentations leading to discussion in a mixture of small groups and final plenary session.

The scale of the problem | Gavin Corbett, Shelter Scotland

new housing

Housing may be cheaper in Scotland than the rest of the UK, but there are still real issues to crack – 200,000 people on Scottish house waiting lists, a doubling in the numbers of people in temporary accommodation since 2001, and average house prices doubling in the last 10 years.

All this leads to a host of related problems – increased commuting, carbon emissions, strains on family life as more income is needed for the mortgage, and rural facilities under pressure as family accommodation is lost in villages.

Some suggesting tackling affordability by releasing release more land and deregulating the planning system. But, in a market where 80% of transactions are in the second hand market, we would have to crank up supply enormously to make an improvement.

What do Shelter Scotland suggest ? A focused programme of public investment in affordable rented homes, building 10,000 homes a year – a figure derived from independent academic research on the Shelter Scotland website. It is a balanced assessment based on thorough, independent, academic research.

10,000 affordable rented homes per year is more than at any time since 1977, so it is significant – but it is only half of the average output between 1945 and 1995, and its additional cost would be less than 1% of the Scottish budget. Most of the 10,000 would delivered as part of mixed tenure programmes with the private sector.

What can planners do to make housing more affordable? | Liz Shiel, Tribal Consulting

Karl Marx Hof, Vienna

Liz took us through three pieces of work on affordable housing by Tribal for the Scottish and English governments from 2006 to 2008.

The supply of land for affordable housing is increasingly difficult in areas of high land values. Policies are not delivering a significant amount of affordable housing, part of a bigger problem of delivery of housing sites which is often related to infrastructure difficulties.

Quota policies have been introduced by most, but not all, local authorities where land supply is an issue.

Tribal’s view is that the quota system, not separate allocations for affordable housing, should be the backbone of the affordable housing land supply in Scotland. It can secure mixed communities and affordable housing land at less cost to the public purse, with no greater risk of challenge at local plan inquiries unless landowners are given open market values. That said, there may be a role for separate allocations in fragile rural areas, where sites are small and scarce.

Tribal’s research in England suggests that:

Shared ownership affordable housing is viable without grant in all but the lowest value areas.
Social rented housing without grant is also possible, even with quite high quotas and even in moderate value areas.
In very high value areas,there is considerable scope to bear both affordable housing and other Section 106 requirements.

However, research released this year in Scotland – All Pain, No Gain by Newhaven Research for the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland – suggests that this English approach involves large hidden costs in justifying and defending affordable housing policies and negotiating individual Section 75 agreements. Evidence suggests that the specific analytical and strategic skills required by local authority planning and housing staff are are often lacking.

Instead, All Pain, No Gain suggests a combination of dispute resolution, model Section 75 agreement, and an economic appraisal of alternative approaches to delivering affordable housing – including some form of mandatory tariff system.

And, just to complicate the array of possible policy responses even more, the Scottish Government’s 2007 consultation paper on housing – Firm Foundations – puts forward an emphasis on greater efficiency and productivity from Housing Associations, making the point that subsidies are higher in Scotland than England.

So, no easy answers: and no gain without some pain. What will the government’s response be? Will it really address the issues?

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