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What can the Planning Bill do to deliver more affordable homes and better places?

A blog by Sarah Boyack, SFHA Head of Public Affairs.

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There is a housing crisis in Scotland. In the past few years, housing has become unaffordable for many, while as a nation we are not building enough homes to meet need. This crisis affects all parts of the housing system.

There is a shortage of housing for social rent: a 2015 study by SFHA and partners found that, in order to meet outstanding need, 60,000 new homes for social rent were needed over the next 5 years.

In the private rented sector, high demand has seen rents rise by close to 20% between 2010 and 2017 at a time when wages have been stagnant. Finally, rising house prices and static incomes mean that for many young people and people on low to average incomes the housing ladder is broken meaning they cannot access the housing they need.

The housing crisis is not a short-term issue – population projections show that the need for housing will only increase as people live longer and the number of single person households increases. The ageing population also has implications for the homes we need to build – they need to be suitable for older people and people with disabilities.

The current Scottish Government has responded to the housing crisis by setting a target to build 50,000 new affordable homes over the term of the current parliament, and has backed this with £3bn in funds. This is commendable. Longer term, however, we need to think about reform to our land, planning and housing systems if we are to meet need and provide enough affordable homes.

The current Planning Bill was set in train when the Scottish Government set up an Independent Review of Planning in 2015. The review was set up to address the fact that Scotland isn’t building enough homes to meet need and demand.

SFHA consulted widely with housing associations – the principle providers of new build affordable housing - before responding first to the Planning Review and then to the draft Planning Bill. A number of challenges emerged:

  • The cost and availability of land to develop for affordable housing;
  • Funding the infrastructure needed to support housing development, whether physical infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, or social infrastructure, such as schools;
  • A weak link between projections of housing need and the land allocated for housing; and
  • Sites being allocated for housing, yet lying empty for years.

SFHA has actively lobbied and campaigned on these issues, both on our own and as part of an alliance of organisations working in the built environment: the Alliance for People and Places. The group works to create a planning system that is ambitious and holistic, and we recognise the positive role that quality economic development can play in creating a more equal society.

SFHA recognises that politicians see the need to change planning and create more affordable homes, and we welcome their commitment. However, with Stage 1 of the Bill now complete, there is still more to be done to ensure that the planning system in Scotland is fair and equitable for all.

So, what can the Planning Bill do to deliver more affordable homes and better places?

SFHA is calling for a number of changes in the planning system that we believe would support this, including:

  • Clear guidance that requires robust measurement of housing need and land allocated in plans to meet that need;
  • Housing targets to be set in the National Planning Framework (which sets out Scotland’s national development priorities) and in Strategic and Local Plans;
  • Provision for the transfer of land at existing use value where the housing is affordable housing to meet an identified shortfall; and
  • Land Value Capture: the provision of a mechanism to capture the uplift in land value when planning permission is granted for housing. This value would be used to fund social housing and infrastructure, rather than going to the land owner.

MSPs on the Local Government and Communities Committee are still debating amendments to the Planning Bill. SFHA has been working alongside other stakeholders in the Scottish Alliance for People and Places in recent months to work constructively with MSPs to persuade them of the importance of ensuring that the Bill delivers the legislation our members need to help deliver Scotland’s housing needs across the country.

Once the Committee finishes its deliberations through the Stage 2 process, the final stage of the process will give the Scottish Parliament as a whole the chance to make final changes to the Bill.

At this point, SFHA will take stock, communicate to our members the key changes proposed, and highlight what we hope will be new opportunities and mechanisms to build the homes that are needed across Scotland.

Our ambition is that everyone has a good home in a successful community, with a range of high quality, affordable, safe and accessible homes that meet people’s changing needs and aspirations throughout their lives.

For further information on SFHA’s work on the Planning Bill, please contact David Stewart, SFHA Policy Lead, at dstewart@sfha.co.uk, or Sarah Boyack at sboyack@sfha.co.uk.

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