Local Government Manifestos
There is always a tension between the national priority for new housing against the fact that planning applications are determined by Local Authorities where local issues may well be taken into account by elected Members. This was highlighted in the Scottish Government's consultation on the future of the Scottish planning system "Places, People and Planning" where building more homes and delivering infrastructure was one of the four key areas identified for change. This theme has continued in each of the main political parties local government manifestos where each put forward their proposals and aspirations for various planning and housing policies.
The Conservatives stated their wish to establish a return to pre-recession house completion of around 25,000 every year in Scotland. They want to focus on brownfield sites, establishing brownfield land registers and a presumption to build on brownfield where housing is a major component of the planning application introduced.
The Conservatives also focused on self-build homes, proposing that councils should develop serviced plots and make them available with plot passports that would not require planning permission. They proposed that a percentage of large housing developments could be set aside for these serviced plots.
The Greens want to bring Scotland’s 27,000 empty homes back into use, and support the building of at least 12,000 new social rented homes across Scotland each year. To ensure land is available for housing at a low cost, they propose to introduce a power to allow councils to buy land for housing at ‘existing use value’.
The Greens also propose to build on brownfield sites but wish to prioritise new housing that is affordable, low-carbon and connected to local services like schools and shops. To help deliver housing and reduce land speculation they want to support proposals for a local ‘vacant land levy’.
Labour wants a national house building plan to be published setting out how government working with councils can tackle Scotland’s housing crisis. They also want to build 45,000 new homes for rent by councils, housing associations and co-operatives.
The Liberal Democrats support the building throughout Scotland of thousands more socially rented houses, using new funding methods such as pension funds and developers’ assets where possible. They also want to extend the supply of low cost housing options, particularly for young people.
The SNP want to build their share of 50,000 new affordable homes across Scotland by 2021, and work with housing associations to ensure that at least 35,000 of these will be houses for social rent. They also want to work to bring empty homes into use for rent or purchase. Furthermore, they wish to ensure that local development plans take into account the different housing needs of older people and those with disabilities.
Despite the success of the SNP and the gains of the Conservatives at the local government elections, no mainland council fell under overall control by any one party. As such, it remains to be seen which of these policies will be adopted going forward to address Scotland’s housing need.
General Election Manifestos
Looking forward to the General Election, housing is once again a prominent issue in the Scottish manifestos.
The Conservatives have reiterated many of the housing proposals set out in their local government manifesto and have also stated a need for a concerted effort to bring the estimated 34,000 empty houses back into use. Furthermore, they have set out two key objectives for reform of Scotland’s planning system: they argue it should be locally-driven and that the speed of decision-making must be improved.
The Greens are only fielding three candidates on 8 June. In relation to housing, their manifesto focuses on truly affordable homes, with rent controls and better rights for tenants and notes that housing is already devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Labour have stated that they would build over a million new homes across the UK with resources to be provided to the Scottish government to invest in Scotland’s housing stock. Labour also proposes to prioritise brownfield sites.
The SNP note that Scotland has the highest house building rate in the UK and that they are already building new homes and refurbishing existing properties through the £25 million Rural Housing Fund. They state that they will support restoration of housing support for 18 to 21 year olds, and argue that we need to fundamentally change the condition of housing provided to asylum seekers.
At the time of writing, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have not published a General Election Manifesto.
There will undoubtedly be a renewed focus on planning reform and housing delivery by the Scottish Government, with a planning bill expected towards the end of this year. The implementation of these policies will be undertaken at a local level by Councils where in the vast majority of cases the political make up is finely balanced. The focus is now much more on recognising the needs of local people and their families and involving communities in the planning and housing decisions which will affect their future. The delivery of new homes will be challenging but will continue to be both an area of high priority and contention for local and central government.