Housing emergency declaration must signal the start of change - David Alexander

16th May 2024
David J Alexander
Housing emergency declaration must signal the start of change - David Alexander - D. J. Alexander

The Scottish Government’s announcement of a housing emergency across all of Scotland is a belated recognition of the many problems facing the sector in Scotland. This is welcome but it must be the start of action and not simply an excuse for blaming Westminster or Brexit for the current situation. This must be an announcement which produces action and starts the first steps in addressing the housing problems which have beset Scotland for many years now.

This should be an opportunity to mend the toxic relationship which the Scottish Government has had with the private rented sector and with housebuilding itself. This is a chance to grow the housing market with more homes to buy, and to rent in both the private and social rented sectors.

There must be a return to a consensual relationship which encourages more housebuilding, a larger rented sector in both the private and social housing markets and an increase in the number of homes available overall.

We seem to have lost the ability to build sufficient homes to meet our country’s needs. In the first decade after the establishment of the Scottish parliament almost a quarter of a million new private and social homes were built. The annual number of new build completions was never below 20,000 from the 1990’s onwards and even reached 25,747 in 2007. This was enough new homes to meet demand and ensure that a regular flow of properties was coming into the market each year.

Since then, the number of homes being built has fallen and over the last decade from 2014 to 2023 this figure has dropped by 19.4 per cent to 191,634. This is at a time when Scotland’s population has risen by 375,700 and when more people than ever live in single or two-person households which adds a further pressure on demand for properties.

This falling off in the number of new builds is at the root of the current housing crisis in Scotland. The current volumes are simply not keeping up with the population increase which is producing growing demand in the private and social rented sectors and resulting in soaring house prices and rising rents.

With John Swinney stating that he intends to focus on the issues that most people are concerned about it is obvious that a complete overhaul of housing is required. Declaring a housing emergency is just the start. Ditching the Housing Scotland Bill would go some way to improving investor confidence in the market and increasing the number of properties being built. Delaying the unachievable targets set out in the Heating in Buildings bill would substantially reduce costs and encourage housebuilders to invest immediately.

Engaging with the housing sector is also essential if the current housing emergency is to be addressed and we can then start to resolve the severe shortage of new properties being built in Scotland. What we need in the current climate are solutions rather than delays.

I am not advocating rushing into large-scale building projects without any thought. But a clear, planned growth in housebuilding in both the private and social sector would start to resolve he current housing situation as well as providing a substantial boost to economic growth. This seems like a win-win for Mr Swinney if he is bold enough to do it.

David J Alexander is CEO of DJ Alexander Scotland Ltd