Government must share plan to tackle the housing crisis - David Alexander

10th Jun 2024
David J Alexander

Yes, there’s a general election coming, but some things should not be kicked down road. 

The general election announcement has put on hold almost all legislative work in Scotland. Partly this is due to electoral purdah and the need to not announce policies which could have an influence on voters, but it is also simply the mechanics of campaigning which means the First Minister is on the stump every day rather than getting on with the day job in Scotland.

The risk is that having announced a housing emergency just weeks ago this provides an opportunity to kick the can down the road. The election is on 4 July, by which date the Scottish Parliament will be on recess until 1 September. Party conferences start in the autumn, potentially causing further delay to action.

We therefore face the very real prospect of it being October or November before the Scottish Government even considers doing anything to resolve the housing crisis. So it would be helpful if John Swinney provided an indication of the direction of travel when it comes to addressing the housing emergency gripping Scotland. To wait until the autumn before there is any sign of what the Scottish Government is going to do to address the current major problems would be a serious mistake and result in unnecessary delays.

Every month that passes the situation is worsening with falling newbuild starts, a substantial reduction in the social housing budget, and legislation targeting the private rented sector which will result in fewer properties available for tenants.

This means that both homeowners and tenants face continued increases in sale prices and rents if the current issues facing the housing market are not addressed.

An indication of what is happening with regard to the Heat in Buildings bill and the Housing Scotland Bill would go some way toward informing the market of the Government’s future intentions. There is a rumour that the Heating bill is already pretty much dead in the water with the deadlines and targets set to be abandoned in favour of a more realistic and consultative approach to delivering climate change in Scotland’s properties.

Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes has also hinted that the Housing Scotland Bill does not address the major concerns that the private rented sector and property investors have with the proposed legislation as it stands. Amending and softening the proposals on rent controls would go some way to appeasing investors and landlords and encourage investment in the future. Sticking to the original proposals will only exacerbate the current situation and will not address the current housing emergency.

The new political regime needs to be much more conciliatory and consultative if the situation is to improve and any change toward this must be conveyed as soon as possible.

Opening up the possibility of a different approach to investors and landlords would open up the marketplace sooner rather than later and put in motion the opportunity to start to address the current housing shortages.

It is clear that some indication of what the Swinney government will do to address the immediate problems facing the housing sector in Scotland would help builders, investors, landlords and tenants plan for the coming year. Therefore, a positive statement outlining the overall position in the future should ideally be made prior to the summer recess.