Sunday, 31 May 2015

Campaign Letter #17: Housing

Thank you for contacting me about housing.   In Scotland, it is an issue that has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so if I did become your member of parliament in Westminster, my influence would be greater upon the state of housing in England, ironically enough.  The problems that we face within the United Kingdom as a whole are similar however.

In Scotland, according to figures from Shelter Scotland and The Scottish Government, over the past ten years 53,000 council homes have been lost from stock.  Since 1998, a total of 200,000 houses have been lost from the public stock and the decline is continuing.  The building of new council houses over recent years are reducing the rate of decline.  Overall however, with the inclusion of housing rented from Housing Associations, the stock of affordable housing for the past decade has been roughly static, which is also reflected in Scotland's population of about 5.2million people.  With population numbers starting to show a rising trend, obviously pressure will increase on housing stocks in the years to come.

Within the constituency, I am aware that the crash of 2008 all but halted private housing development in its tracks for years.  The Port of Leith Authority seems to have shelved many of its plans, with only small-scale activity around the Western Harbour at this time.  This has not stopped the price of housing rising over large parts of the city in comparison with 2009, forcing many who have recently found work within Edinburgh to commute from surrounding areas.  I also believe that the affordable housing to be linked with the planned redevelopment of the St.James Centre is to be created outside the city centre, again possibly leading to traffic and commuting concerns.

Everyone should have somewhere affordable to live and I strongly support the building of more social and affordable homes in the UK.

Over the past four decades, successive Conservative and Labour Governments have left us with a housing crisis and eroded our stock of social housing. Since 1979, 1.5 million social homes have been lost from the stock, 1.1 million under the Tories and a further 420,000 under Labour.

In contrast, Liberal Democrats in UK Government have worked hard to turn this around. We have built over 170,000 new social and affordable homes in this Parliament and brought a record number of empty homes back into use – over 100,000 since 2010 – reducing them to their lowest level for over a decade. As a result of our work, we will be the first Government for more than thirty years to leave office with more social and affordable homes than we started with. This is a small, but important, step in the right direction, turning around a downward trend that had lasted thirty years.

We have set out plans to boost affordable housing in the next Parliament by building 275,000 more affordable homes by 2020 – the fastest rate of affordable house building for more than 20 years. Going forward, we have set an important long-term target of increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year, built to the Zero Carbon standard.

Within the first year of the next Parliament, we will publish a long term plan to set out how we will achieve our goal and appoint a ministerial taskforce on housing to oversee this task. Our plan will include proposals for at least ten new “Garden Cities” in England, in areas where there is local support, providing tens of thousands of high quality new homes with gardens and shared green space, jobs, schools and public transport.

We also want to bring forward more development on unwanted public sector sites through the Homes and Communities Agency, building on the progress we have already made in Government by releasing enough land to build over 103,000 new homes.

Our plans include proposals to help social housing providers, including councils, build more affordable homes to rent, with central government investment and local flexibility within the Housing Revenue Account. We also want to work with housing providers to design new models of affordable housing, to sit alongside the traditional social rented sector. This would include models that offer a path to ownership for low income working families.

It is no good making more affordable housing available if existing stocks are not fit for purpose.  Fuel poverty is a real problem, especially in Scotland.  That is why Liberal Democrats would ensure that all United Kingdom housing levels of insulation and energy efficiency would, by 2030, at least match the current Grade C standards.  Standards for new housing efficiency will also be reviewed and increased.

Councils in England would also be required to allocate land to meet 15 years’ housing need in their local plans and work with councils to pilot techniques for capturing the increase in land value from the granting of planning permission.

In order to help young people to relocate for jobs more easily, the Liberal Democrats would introduce a Help-to Rent scheme, where the deposit required up front by private landlords could be borrowed from government-backed tenancy scheme.  This would be available to first-time renters under the age of thirty.

The housing crisis can be tackled, but we need clear political leadership to be able to achieve this. I am confident that Liberal Democrat plans for the future can build on our encouraging start in Government and deliver the homes Britain needs.

If you have any further comments or questions on this, or any other issue, I will be glad to hear from you.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Veart
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Edinburgh North and Leith

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