Scotland should follow Starmer’s lead on targets for housebuilding

11th Jul 2024
David J Alexander
As Chancellor Rachel Reeves confirmed the new government’s intention to introduce a housebuilding target of 1.5 million new homes over the next five years it is clear that a similar plan is now urgently required in Scotland. A comparable target for Scotland, given its population, would be 123,000 new homes over five years which equates to 24,600 a year.
This is not an unrealistic figure. In 2022 23,735 new homes were built. However, that year was an outlier, and you have to go as far back as 2004 to 2007 to see consistent newbuild numbers around the 25,000 level.
However, looking deeper into the numbers you find this is an issue that has been developing for decades. The latest statistics on housing by tenure highlight a contrasting picture of much lower social housing numbers coupled with a record number of owner-occupied homes.
Between the start of the SNP government’s reign in 2007 until 2022 the number of social houses available has increased by 11,368, rising from 607,191 to 618,559.
Meanwhile the number of owner-occupied properties hit a record high of 1,629,048 in 2022 which is an increase of 134,861 over 15 years. Over the same period the private rented sector (PRS) has seen its size increase from 247,375 homes to 340,782.
Scotland’s population has grown by 277,000 during this time although this is only a partial explanation of why we are facing such difficulties in the housing sector. The last decade or so has seen a seismic shift in the way in which people live. Almost 85 per cent of people now live alone or as a couple in homes. The days of families needing large social housing are long gone and increasingly the demand is for one-bedroom flats in our largest cities.
Therefore, although there has been an increase in the total number of homes in Scotland rising by a quarter of a million in the last 15 years to stand at 2,687,186 in 2022 this volume is not enough to cope with the demands of an increasing population and changing social trends.
You also need to factor in the fact that many people who live in the PRS are not permanent residents but individuals who come for a limited time to live and work in Scotland, are ineligible for social housing, and don’t want to buy a home for an impermanent period.
So, while we immediately need more homes in all sectors from owner-occupiers to the private rented and social housing sectors, we also need to ensure that these are the right sort of homes in the right areas.
Setting targets is always a risky proposition for politicians as it can be used as a stick to beat them with if they fail to achieve the numbers within a set period. But it does also provide a very real incentive to actually do something and generate change within a fixed timeframe.
Therefore, the Scottish Government could do a lot worse than emulate Keir Starmer’s housing policy and introduce ambitious housebuilding targets created through a substantial relaxation of planning regulations with a keen eye on ensuring we have homes that reflect the needs and demands of people from all walks of life in all parts of Scotland.