HM Insights

What is the current situation with housing policy in Scotland?

The 19th edition of Harper Macleod's National Housing Conference played an important part in setting out the role of social housing in the country's transition from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Over 5 days, our legal specialists were joined by a selection of industry and academic speakers. If you missed any sessions or would like to revisit what happened on particular days all the content is now available on-demand.

Day one of NHC 2021 saw leading academics discuss proposed manifestos for the future direction of housing policy in Scotland and Wales, drawing comparisons and lessons to be learned from both.

Chaired by  Collette Miller, a Partner in the Housing team at Harper Macleod, the session welcomed leading academics Professor Kenneth Gibb from the University of Glasgow and Dr Bob Smith of Cardiff University.

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Overview

The past 12 months have been challenging for the housing sector. In spite of the external factors of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, it has continued to be resilient. These challenges have raised some interesting and thought-provoking policy considerations.

Professors Gibb and Smiths are among those whose work, evidence and research on the housing sector is fed into the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE). The CaCHE housing manifestos currently being drafted in Scotland and Wales will set out the proposed future direction for housing policy in both devolved jurisdictions. Comparisons and lessons to be learned were also drawn upon. 

Policy considerations in both jurisdictions

CaCHE Housing Manifesto Scotland

Professor Gibb is developing a housing manifesto for Scotland on behalf of CaCHE. Evidence and research collated by CaCHE is drawn upon to help inform the housing manifesto for Scotland. CaCHE expects to publish the Scottish housing manifesto in the month prior to the Scottish elections. 

Professor Gibb highlighted key areas which are expected to feature in CaCHE's housing manifesto for Scotland:-

  1. Rethinking the affordable supply programme – splitting grant funding for new social rented housing from other affordable housing, such as mid-market rents;
  2. A green retrofit economic recovery - retrofitting current housing stock to assist with post-COVID economic recovery and help tackle climate change;
  3. Reconsidering regulation and rent control within the private rented sector;
  4. Housing inequality and tax reform – introducing a land value tax to replace current land taxes; and
  5. End-to-end evidence should be used to inform housing policy and practice.

There was some discussion by Ken on the links in housing wealth and inequality and how this feeds into debates on the Scottish Government's 'Housing to 2040' strategy.

Ken noted the possible impact of the recently announced Scottish Budget on affordable home ownership and affordable rent, which CaCHE will require to consider in its housing manifesto.

There was some discussion of the practical restrictions on the retrofit agenda. The retrofitting of older tenements in particular is an area that requires careful consideration if Scotland is going to achieve its zero carbon target. Glasgow alone has 70,000 pre-1919 tenements. If properties cannot be retrofitted, what will happen to them and what are the solutions to resolve these issues?

Wales

Dr Smith agreed that there are many similarities between the current Welsh and Scottish draft manifestos but there are also some key differences. The Welsh manifesto has pulled together different aspects of projects carried out by CaCHE. The manifesto draws on evidence from these projects and is the basis for the 6 main themes of the manifesto, which are as follows:

  1. Issues surrounding affordable housing supply;
  2. Homelessness;
  3. Issues in the private rented sector;
  4. Issues and links between housing, health and social services;
  5. Issues around the role that housing plays in developing sustainable neighbourhoods or sustainable places; and
  6. The role of tenant engagement and placing this at the heart of social housing discussions which has declined in recent years.

As is the case in Scotland, there has been a push to try to feed these key policy priorities into debates around housing in the run up to the Welsh election also taking place in May. CaCHE also expects to publish the Welsh housing manifesto in the month prior to the Welsh elections. There has also been a push to raise the profile of CaCHE and the work that is done. It is hoped that the manifesto will help shape housing policy beyond May after the elections. As is the case in Scotland, the budget released by the Welsh Government will also likely affect the final draft of the manifesto to take these changes into account.

Key distinctions between the Scottish and Welsh perspective and housing policy

  • Wales is a much smaller and differentiated country than Scotland.
  • Wales has a different social geography to Scotland.
  • Politically, Wales has had a predominantly Labour Government for the past 20 years.
  • The social housing sector is significantly smaller than Scotland's with only half of the 22 local authorities still being landlords.
  • The biggest social landlord in Wales is significantly smaller to the largest in Scotland.
  • There is a striking difference in levels of home ownership across Wales.
  • There are different regulatory regimes operating in Wales and Scotland.
  • Scotland has a Scottish Social Housing Charter which is an area for Wales to develop.

Other points under consideration include:

  • The issues surrounding homelessness and how both countries can move prevention upstream into its approach and how policies surrounding this area can be strengthened - perhaps scrapping priority needs testing in Wales, following the Scottish approach, could assist in this.
  • Changes required to end the inappropriate use of unsuitable temporary accommodation.
  • How best to increase the supply of affordable housing.
  • Issues arising from mixed tenure blocks of housing and the effect this can have on the ability of housing associations to carry out repairs or improvements to a building.
  • Financing for retrofitting and upgrading of properties.

Watch the session and find out more

To find out more about the National Housing Conference, and watch this session, visit Virtual National Housing Conference 2021 (harpermacleod.co.uk)

You can also catch up on the other days which focused on:

  • Governance and Regulatory - Harper Macleod
  • Development & Procurement - Harper Macleod
  • Finance - Harper Macleod
  • Digital Engagement - Harper Macleod

 

Get in touch - we're here to help

Please contact a member of the team if you have any questions about the issues touched upon in this article.

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