This election will impact on Scottish housing

AM March 15
Annie Mauger, Executive Director, Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, @CIHScotland

With control of housing policy devolved to Holyrood, voters with a priority interest in Scotland’s future housing landscape could be forgiven for thinking this Thursday’s general election is of limited relevance to them. Key policies such as affordable housing targets, the integration of health and social care, planning and land reform are all areas where the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and, in some cases, Scotland’s 32 local authorities take the lead.

So why should Scottish housing professionals and others with a keen interest in housing take the time to scrutinise general election manifestos and interrogate the policies of their local general election candidates before voting this week?

In fact, there are many areas of policy with a major impact on housing that remain reserved to Westminster. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of welfare policy. Despite recent reforms that have seen some aspects of welfare policy devolved to Holyrood, there are still significant aspects of welfare where Westminster has the final say. Furthermore, we are still currently in a state of transition as responsibility for certain aspects of welfare policy is transferred to the Scottish Parliament. This means, for instance, that far-reaching UK Government reforms to welfare policy such as the roll-out of Universal Credit are having – and will continue to have – a direct effect on the availability, accessibility and affordability of housing in Scotland.

In particular, CIH Scotland has recently highlighted the negative social impact and spiralling costs of implementing Universal Credit in Scotland. CIH Scotland members have reported to us a substantial increase in rent arrears as a result of delayed payments. Social landlords have been forced to commit substantial internal resources to support tenants with their claims while demand for financial support from alternative sources such as the Scottish Welfare Fund and referrals to food banks are also on the rise. We have also seen an increasing reluctance by private landlords to let property to Universal Credit claimants. These multiple problems of implementation are something the next UK Government – whatever its political colour – will have to confront and resolve.

More recent research has also highlighted the negative impact of proposals by the UK Government to cap Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit for social housing tenants at LHA rates. This means that single people under 35 years of age will see their allowance capped at the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) with the result that around 21,000 younger social tenants in Scotland could collectively face a rent affordability gap of up to £22.6 million per year.

These are just two examples of policy areas where the actions of a future UK Government will have a real and direct impact on the Scottish housing sector. Anyone interested in Scotland’s future housing landscape should therefore consider carefully the implications for Scottish housing of this Thursday’s general election. Having done so, I hope that most will realise just how important it is to go out and vote.

Annie Mauger is Executive Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland.

This article first appeared in Inside Housing.

New Scottish Social Housing Charter places important new emphasis on tenant scrutiny

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Marian Reid Deputy Director of CIH Scotland

A new revised Scottish Social Housing Charter came into force on the 1st April this year. The Charter was first introduced five years ago as one of the provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, with the aim of improving the quality and value of services provided by social landlords in Scotland.

The revised Charter is the result of an extensive consultation process involving a range of stakeholders including social landlords, tenants and representative bodies.

Although the outcomes of the new Charter are largely the same as for its predecessor, there are some important changes in emphasis. For instance, there is an explicit recognition of the role of new technology such as web-based systems and mobile applications in improving communication between landlords and their tenants.

The most recent changes to the Charter also point to a growing recognition of the role of tenant scrutiny as a means of improving performance, achieving efficiencies and delivering improved outcomes in social landlords’ housing activities. In relation to tenant involvement, one particularly notable inclusion is a direct reference to supporting tenants to scrutinise landlord services. Coupled to this, social landlords are now expected to actively involve tenants and other customers in reviewing how they deliver value for money.

As part of CIH Scotland’s Housing Festival, Housing Minister Kevin Stewart recently launched a practice guide and training toolkit to help landlords and tenants achieve more effective scrutiny.

Over the next five years, we can expect to see even more active engagement in tenant scrutiny of landlord services. The scrutiny resources combined with the revised Charter offer landlords the opportunity to fine tune their services to be as responsive as they possibly can be to the needs of tenants.

Marian Reid is Deputy Director of CIH Scotland.

 To download the Scottish Government funded scrutiny practice guide and training toolkit go to http://www.cih.org/scotland-tenant-scrutiny-programme

The Scottish Government is funding a series of free information events aimed at tenants and landlords and delivered by TPAS Scotland and Tenants Information Service (TIS), looking at the changes that have been made to the Charter.

For details go to http://tis.org.uk/ or http://www.tpasscotland.org.uk/

 

 

We can build as many homes as we want, but Private Rented Sector tax changes could crush the home owning dream for millennials

 

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Amanda Wiewiorka, Managing Director, Wardhaugh Property 

With the release last week (7th February) of the UK Government’s long awaited housing white paper, Scotland’s own problems in the area were propelled into the limelight. The simple fact is, not enough houses are being built to meet increasing and changing demand, making homeownership an unaffordable dream for many millennials.

‘Modular homes’ or ‘off-site’ construction could offer part of a solution to this crisis. The process of constructing ‘modules’ complete with everything from electrics to plumbing at a factory away from the development site has already been identified by the Scottish Government as a way of addressing the housing shortage.

The concept is widely used around the world to provide strong, energy efficient homes.  Here in Angus, the first six houses of a new development on the site of the old Inverpark Hotel in Arbroath were built in complete units at a factory in Dunfermline before being delivered to the site last week.

It was Theresa May’s proclamation that the UK would take a different stance to homeownership, supporting long term renting as a viable alternative, which struck me. If she does indeed wish to move towards equal perceptions in Britain between renting and homeownership, then she must echo that sentiment in her policies.

Even if we increase the number of ‘modular’ homes and increase the levels of traditional house building to keep up with demand, the UK Government’s disastrous ‘tenant tax’, which comes into effect in April this year could undermine the entire effort.

The Government has decided that landlords, unlike every other business, will be taxed on their income rather than their profits.  This tax raid will only succeed in driving up rent levels in order for landlords to meet their costs.

With saving for a deposit noted as one of the biggest hurdles to homeownership, how will tenants who rent a property ever be able to save up enough money when they are forced to pay sky-high rents by a Government policy that is, in reality, detrimental to the very people the recent white paper aims to help.

Similarly, if the government truly wishes to achieve parity of perception between renting and buying a house, making it a much clearer choice for people rather than something they have no choice on, they will require the investment of professional landlords and letting agents.  Yet, the very tax changes being implemented will drive those same people out of the market and rob the country of that investment.

The UK Government has to make up its mind, is it trying to drive landlords out to increase the supply of housing available to buy, or does it need landlords to increase the supply of quality properties available to rent to achieve balance?

So whilst innovations such as modular housing can help supply at the edges, both the UK and Scottish governments must begin to make consistent policy decisions if we are to seriously tackle the country’s housing problems.

Solving the housing crisis must acknowledge broader changing demands and demographics

 

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John Blackwood, Chief Executive, Scottish Association of Landlords @scotlandlord

A recently published report found that home ownership has dropped from 69% in Scotland at its 2004 peak to 63% now.

The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL) would like to see a long-term strategic plan that allows people to choose the right housing solution for their circumstances, recognising those requirements are likely to change over time.

For example, although more people now rent than buy in city centres, often this is through choice.  Homes in the centres of cities are often large, multi-bedroom properties, which would always have required a large deposit and are out of the reach of most young people.  However, small groups of young professionals may seek to rent this kind of property as they prioritise a desire to live in fashionable city-centre areas and the supply should exist to allow them to do this if they choose.

However, an even larger number of people, recognising the growing flux in the job market choose to prioritise saving money for a time when they might be out of work, rather than focussing on a deposit to buy a house.  This would seem like a very sensible long-term plan and considerably more responsible than the situation we saw a decade ago with people over-stretching themselves simply to “get on the property ladder”.  These people were the ones hit hardest by the credit crunch and property crash of 2008 which is still affecting supply in city centres.

None of this is to say that there are not challenges which landlords must address.  We must work with the third sector and government to educate landlords about the law and encourage stronger enforcement of regulations to drive criminal players out of the market.  Equally, we must work with tenants to ensure they are aware of their own responsibilities under their lease.  Achieving this balance will help defuse tensions which can often arise through misunderstanding between tenants and landlords.

By working together and acknowledging the changing nature of the demand in the housing market it is possible to achieve the right balance that will end the housing crisis in Scotland in the future.

The importance of good design

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Jim Tough Executive Director, Saltire Society @Saltire_Society

Housing policy, like education, is a universal aspect of civic life in Scotland; the vast majority of us (notwithstanding the issue of homelessness that still blights society) have a house that we live in and a place where we live.

My own experience has been one of good luck and privilege. For my first 8 years, a single end with a shared toilet in Bridgeton. The next 10 years in a brand new house in the new town of East Kilbride. Then, student life in a series of Edinburgh flats in various degrees of unhygienic communal living , early married life in a rented flat, then a first bought house – and now in a self-built home in the Scottish Borders. I have been lucky. And I have had direct experience of what I believe is at the heart of the Saltire Society’s Housing Design Awards, where that new family home in East Kilbride, front and back garden, inside toilet and bathroom, a safe place to play and a school within walking distance arguably typifies the standards that the awards seek to encourage.

In the Year of Architecture, Design and Innovation, which coincides with the Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary, we have been paying particular attention to the impact and influence of those awards and how they, and the projects themselves, have stood the test of time. This was the topic for a panel discussion at this year’s awards ceremony where broadcaster Kirsty Wark, artist Toby Paterson, and architects Malcom Fraser and Jude Barber reflected on the state of building design and related issues from their collective experiences as judging panel chairs past and present. New pamphlets from Malcolm Fraser (‘Shoddy Buildings and Fancy Finance’) and another from a fellow distinguished Scottish architect Neil Gillespie (‘Rebuilding Scotland’) have added to the debate. Some key issues emerged that the panel felt merit serious consideration in a national policy context.

Finance for public buildings and social housing should be driven by public interest – the recent high profile issue with PFI and Edinburgh school buildings is not only a matter of money. Good design takes account of light, space and place and this has a direct effect on the health and well- being of those using and living in those buildings. Meanwhile, at a time when recycling is part of the zeitgeist, it seems contradictory to charge VAT on rebuilding and refurbishing older buildings while new builds are zero rated.

The importance of design and the role of the architect should be part of the curriculum – the idea of the ‘starchitect’ and celebrity buildings can create an unhelpful impression of the architect as somehow removed from our daily experiences. Good design and good designers are not simply ‘nice to have’ but are an essential part of any ambition we have to improve health and quality of life. Encouraging children to be confident in their understanding of design is part of this aspiration. In the words of the introduction to the influential Saltire Society publication ‘Building  Scotland’, written by founder members Robert Hurd and Allan Reiach in 1944:

“The point of this book is to introduce you to the pleasures and pains of ancient and modern forms of Scottish architecture: and in doing so indicate that, to be a good citizen in the age of reconstruction, every man, woman and child, should learn to use their eyes and be competent to know a good (or bad) building when they see it.”

The discussion also found general support for a simpler regulatory environment governing architecture and place making. By all accounts, the understanding architects must have of complex and accruing regulation adds cost, complexity and inhibits a holistic approach to design. A simpler more coherent regulatory framework would allow architects and clients to use their time more effectively.

It’s exciting to be part of the Year of Architecture, Innovation and Design and it is important to celebrate excellence and achievement in what is such an integral part of our society. It is also equally important to be ambitious for the future. To quote from Neil Gillespie’s Saltire pamphlet, which refers back to Hurd and Reiach’s original 1944 publication:

“At one point in Building Scotland the authors say ‘If the ability of the 20th century architect to tackle modern problems is still in doubt turn over and take… courage!’. Some seventy years later the call remains the same, take… courage!”

To find out more about this year’s Housing Design Awards or to get copies of any of the related publications mentioned, please visit our website: www.saltiresociety.org.uk

Private Rented Sector vital to success of Dundee regeneration

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Amanda Wiewiorka, Owner/Comapny Director, Wardhaugh Property

Uncertainty and discouragement must stop if landlords are to provide the accommodation needed for Dundee to grow, says Amanda Wiewiorka (Director, Wardhaugh Property)

For the past two decades Dundee has been at the centre of what could be one of Scotland’s greatest city regeneration stories.  The growth of the biotech sector, the video games industries and the variety of education and research opportunities, not to mention the transformation of the Waterfront are the signs of a city that is developing rapidly.  That is good not only for Dundee and the wider Tayside region but for the whole of Scotland.

In the Private Rented Sector (PRS), we have seen a similar transformation in the city.  For years, the market in Dundee was flat with rent levels and yields low, restricting the ability of landlords to either expand their portfolios or improve existing properties.  However, in the past couple of years all that has changed – yields are increasing and investment has been on the up.  As a result, there have been more properties available for rent, including landlords bringing derelict homes back in to use, as well as an increase in quality and standards, providing more value for money for tenants.

This increase in the supply and standards of accommodation is vital for any region looking to grow and thrive, be that the rented accommodation, hotel rooms or new housing for families or students.  However, it is the PRS, in particular, that provides the kind of high-quality and flexible accommodation that employers and workers require, be that in Dundee itself or in the wider Tayside area.

However, this optimistic outlook is being threatened by tax changes and other uncertainties that are making it harder for landlords to invest either in new properties or in renovations and improvements.  For example, tax changes brought in last year by Westminster and Holyrood are already starting to choke off investment.  This, coupled with the continued uncertainty around the EU referendum vote which we are told could reduce the attractiveness of Scotland for business investment and to students, is making landlords cautious and highly risk-averse.  Although there was a rush of buyers prior to April when the increase in the Land and Building Transactions Tax (LBTT) took effect, we now hear from landlords in Angus and Dundee that they are holding back on investment until the uncertainty around the EU Referendum has passed.

Unless there is a halt to actions which create uncertainty or discourage landlords from investing in more privately rented property, there is a real danger that the fantastic economic turnaround we are seeing take hold in Dundee could stall, with far-reaching implications not only for the city but for the wider Tayside region and Scotland.

Review of the Scottish planning system

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Alex Orr @Alex_m_Orr

In September 2015, an independent panel was appointed by Scottish Ministers to review the Scottish planning system. The panel were tasked with bringing together ideas to achieve a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process.

The report of the panel, “Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places”, and a statement from the panel were published on 31 May 2016. The Scottish Government is now considering the recommendations put forward by the panel and will publish its response in due course.

The review focused on six key themes – development planning; housing delivery; planning for infrastructure; development management; leadership, resourcing and skills; and community engagement.

Key recommendations include:

Strong and flexible development plans:

  • Strategic Development Plans should be replaced by an enhanced National Planning Framework, which should be more fully integrated with wider government policies and strategies.
  • Main Issues Report should be removed and replaced with a single, full draft plan, providing there is a renewed commitment to early engagement.
  • Local development plans should set out a 20 year vision and focus on place rather than policy. Preparation process reduced to a two year period.
  • Development plan examinations should be replaced with a frontloaded ‘gatecheck’ of the plan.
  • Scope for flexibility and updating local development plans within the 10 year period.
  • A statutory duty for the development plan to be aligned with community planning should be introduced.

The delivery of more high quality homes:

  • The National Planning Framework should define regional housing targets as the basis for setting housing land requirements in local development plans.
  • Urgent need to establish a clearer definition of effective housing land so that local development plans can move on from this to take a positive and flexible approach to addressing the housing land requirement for their area.
  • SPZ concept should be rebranded and evolved into a more flexible and widely applicable zoning mechanism which identifies and prepares areas to make them ‘investment ready’.
  • Mechanisms for planning authorities to take action to assemble land and provide infrastructure upfront should be established as soon as possible.
  • A programme of innovative housing delivery should be progressed in a way which is fully aligned with local development plans.

An infrastructure first approach to planning and development:

  • A national infrastructure agency or working group with statutory powers should be established, involving all infrastructure providers as well as planning representatives. This will be tasked with providing a clearer, cross cutting overview of planning and infrastructure provision.
  • Options for a national or regional infrastructure levy should be defined and consulted upon.
  • A development delivery infrastructure fund should be established, partly resourced by a mechanism to capture land value uplift.
  • Corporate structure requiring all key infrastructure providers to co-operate in delivering the local development plan should be introduced.
  • A review of transport governance should be undertaken to address the gap between this key aspect of infrastructure and development planning.
  • Future school building programmes should address the need for new schools in housing growth areas.
  • Local authorities and their partners need to become much bolder in their approach to infrastructure investment, with an “infrastructure first” approach.
  • Section 75 planning obligations should be retained but their use should be minimised and the process streamlined.
  • New approaches to low carbon infrastructure planning and delivery should be taken forward through a programme of innovation.

Efficient and transparent development management:

  • Timescales for decision making remain critical in creating certainty and should remain part of the performance monitoring framework.
  • Certainty provided by the development plan in development management should strengthened – to incentivise this allocated sites should be afforded planning permission in principle, could be exempted from pre-application consultation requirements and could benefit from fast-tracked appeals. Conversely, where non allocated sites are being proposed for development a charrette or similar fuller consultation or mediation exercise could be required.
  • Quality and effectiveness of pre-application discussions with planning authorities and consultation by developers should be significantly improved.
  • National guidance on minimum requirements for validation is required.
  • Scottish Government should work with local authority enforcement officers to identify and/or remove any barriers to the use of enforcement powers.
  • Planning authorities should work together to identify the scope for significantly extending permitted development rights.
  • Fuller study of the scope for combined consents, particularly planning, roads and drainage consents, should be carried out.
  • A stronger mechanism for a collective community perspective to be built into the matters explicitly addressed by reporters in appeals, could go some way towards bridging the gap between local and central decision making.

Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills:

  • Planning services should aspire to become leaders and innovators within the context of public service reform.
  • Planning fees on major applications should be increased substantially, so the service moves forward at full cost recovery.
  • Scope for further discretionary charging, for example for pre-application processes, should be considered further.
  • Alternative mechanisms to support improvements should be found and the threat of the penalty clause removed.
  • Skills development is required in a number of priority areas.
  • Local authorities should pursue the establishment of shared services.
  • A planning graduate intern programme should be considered.

Collaboration rather than conflict – inclusion and empowerment:

  • There should be a continuing commitment to early engagement in planning, but practice needs to improve significantly.
  • Communities should be empowered to bring forward their own local place plans, and those should form part of the development plan.
  • Community councils should be given a statutory right to be consulted on the development plan.
  • Third party rights of appeal should not be introduced.
  • A working group should be established to identify the barriers to greater involvement in planning, taking account of measures contained in the Community Empowerment Act and the Land reform Act.
  • A new statutory tight for young people to be consulted on the development plan should be introduced.