Reasons to be Cheerful - Part 1
HFS Head of Planning Tammy Adams
Since joining Homes for Scotland (HFS), I have developed a real admiration for the fortitude and resilience of those who are committed to ensuring we have enough homes of all tenures to meet the diverse needs of our growing population. All businesses have to jump through some hoops and deal with red tape, but it feels like home builders, by comparison, must be able to perform gymnastics to Olympic standard, and pull rabbits (along with schools, affordable homes and road improvements) out of hats on a regular basis.
Many local planning authorities have a genuine desire to encourage their communities to grow and see new homes as an important part of the equation. Others, it seems, do not. And those authorities are causing real problems by trying every method available to underplay the need and demand for new homes – and/or overplay their ability to ‘magic’ these homes from land that private sector home builders cannot afford to invest in, or where they would not expect to be able to sell homes. For a long time it felt like these authorities ‘ruled the roost’ and that the Scottish Government (SG) did not feel able to intervene, certainly not in a dramatic way. I may be jumping the gun but, to me, there seem to be positive signs that things are changing.
In September 2015, Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil appointed an independent panel to review and provide a strategic perspective on the Scottish planning system. He’s been clear that he’s open to ‘game-changing’ ideas relating to housing supply and five other priority issues. A call for written evidence resulted in over 390 submissions – with ideas from HFS and many of our members amongst them. The independent panel is due to report its findings to Scottish Ministers in May.
In the meantime, the SG has also taken a number of smaller but important short-term steps to support the delivery of more homes of all tenures under the current system. This includes issuing draft advice on delivering housing and infrastructure. Whilst HFS has raised strong concerns about the unintended consequences of some of that advice, we do welcome the intentions behind it and the clear signal that the SG is serious about improving the unsatisfactory housing supply position.
We can, in any case, take comfort in the fact the advice has been issued first in draft form, for consultation. This doesn’t normally happen and it reflects the fact that advice on housing supply can have a significant impact and must be right before it can start to be used – something recognised in the SG’s statement that:
“Following the close of the consultation period, we will give careful consideration to all the comments we have received. The advice will not be finalised and adopted until these views have been taken into account, later in 2016. PAN 2/2010: Affordable Housing and Housing Land Audits remains in place until the draft advice has been finalised.”
The significance of this simple but important clarification (published just before the pre-election period) should not be underestimated.
Other indicators of the SG’s support for increased home building include the recent decision to recall all appeals for developments of 100 or more homes (“to ensure housing land supply issues are given ministerial scrutiny") and a letter sent by the Cabinet Secretary to all local authority Chief Executives seeking their support in “facilitating developments that will provide the homes our communities need”.
There has also been the announcement of a new £50 million infrastructure fund to speed up the construction of thousands of new affordable and private homes. Speaking in February, the Cabinet Secretary said “today's announcement underlines this Government’s determination to increase the pace and scale of development to deliver more homes across all tenures”.
Overall we have seen quite a glut of supportive statements and actions and await the actual outcomes with a keen and hopeful interest.
Published 15 April 2016