Scottish housing policy requires an urgent reset - David Alexander

2nd May 2024
David J Alexander
Scottish housing policy requires an urgent reset - David Alexander - D. J. Alexander

There is little doubt that the last week in Scottish politics has been tumultuous. The removal of the Greens by First Minister Humza Yousaf and his subsequent departure on Monday have seen seismic changes in the make-up of the Scottish Government.

Too many policies out of touch with the public mood and poor management of fundamental parts of society has resulted in a political class that is mistrusted and often mocked for priorities which are at odds with the views of the people.

The coming weeks must be a moment to rethink policy, plan strategically, and bring about a reset of the relationship of politicians with the wider population.

Part of this must include a reassessment of the relationship between business and government. Too often this has merely been the pretence of listening whilst implementing policy without consultation or conciliation.

In the housing sector there has been a complete mismatch between the needs of the market and the aims of the Scottish Government, resulting in collapsing investment in homebuilding and the private and social rented sectors. This has resulted in the lowest newbuild start levels for decades which can only result in ever higher prices and a rental sector that has experienced unprecedented demand resulting in record levels of rent rises in the private and social sectors.

Something needs to be done if the housing emergencies already announced by four local authorities do not become a national emergency. But this will require policy which genuinely seeks the views of the main participants in the housing sector.

Any policy on housebuilding, on the private and social rented sectors, on investment, and on the implementation of greener heating systems must involve a realistic and open discussion with the key players. Housebuilders, property investors, build-to-rent investors, landlords, planning authorities, housing associations, local authorities, and banks must all be engaged in any future debate aimed at delivering enough quality housing to meet demand now and in the future beyond the usual five-year political cycle.

Housing requires decade-long planning to maintain regular levels of investment. There must be an end to stop/start housing development so that in the coming decades there will be a housing market for buyers, private and social tenants, and landlords which meets the needs of these groups.

An urgent review is required of the boiler implementation scheme and its unrealistic timescale and a re-examination of the recent Housing Scotland Bill which is likely to make matters worse in the private rented sector in years to come. A cohesive plan for better housing and cleaner heating in homes is welcomed by everyone but setting arbitrary dates and timescales without appropriate planning makes no sense and does not serve the needs of Scots seeking a home to buy or to rent.

I would hope that we can rebuild relations and restart discussions on the future of the housing sector and build a consensus which accurately reflects the needs of Scots now and in the future. We need more homes for buyers, and for tenants in the social and private rented sectors, and we need to ensure that everyone is engaged in providing sufficient homes in the coming years.

David Alexander is CEO of DJ Alexander Scotland Ltd