Converting national policy to local delivery is a challenge that must be met if the housing crisis is to be resolved any time soon. At the recent Homes for Scotland Annual Conference a wide range of informed speakers gave their view on the challenge.
Nicola Barclay, Chief Executive of Homes for Scotland, set the scene, highlighting that in the last year the industry fell some way behind its target output. Whilst there were undoubtedly unanticipated macro economic factors which dampened demand, there is much work to be done to raise output to the levels required. The proposed concordats with local authorities and other key stakeholders which Homes for Scotland are pushing is a commendable initiative which will put some structure around the collaboration which is widely acknowledged to be key to achieving the desired outcome.
We heard from the Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart, who was keen to stress that Scottish Government is willing to play its part and has a number of initiatives up and running to support and fund infrastructure delivery. There are good economic reasons why the Scottish Government should be seizing the day, which were usefully outlined by Professor Kenneth Gibb. Academic research clearly demonstrates the economic benefits of backing the house building industry. If the Scottish Government pulls the right levers, we can expect to see economic growth and the emergence of a more stable housing market.
But that message needs to be spread more widely so that communities understand the importance of new housing and support development, rather than looking for ways to stop it. The planning system has a key role to play in that regard and there was much talk of planning reform. While the process is underway, legislative change is never quick. The planning review panel’s focus on delivery, as much as process, is, however, encouraging.
The final contribution, from Peter Marshall of Perth and Kinross Council, was a timely reminder of what can be achieved when stakeholders collectively take the bull by the horns. Collaboration is not without pain, but it is worth it for the ensuing gain and the results being achieved in Perth in terms of growth in housing numbers are demonstrable.
The Scottish Government needs to listen carefully to the sound advice and representations it is receiving from Homes for Scotland. If the industry remains engaged and gets on with the hard yards in front of it, results will follow. That is unquestionable. Whilst there remains in some quarters justified frustration at the pace of change, what is encouraging is that we are seeing real evidence of effective collaboration. New funding models are emerging. The rules are changing. Technological changes are gathering pace at an exponential rate which will fuel the momentum that is building.
There is a real opportunity for the house building industry in Scotland to deliver growth. Let’s have a good collective kick at the ball!