Campaign against land banking kicks off as leading industry body denies its existence

Caitlin Logan

Rise’s timely land banking campaign comes as Homes for Scotland hits back at critics

A NEW CAMPAIGN against land banking – when land is purchased and left derelict with the aim of future sale or development – was launched by socialist coalition party Rise (Respect, Independence, Socialism, Environmentalism) Scotland this week, coinciding with national industry representative Homes for Scotland describing the issue as a “myth”.

Rise Scotland members placed hundreds of posters highlighting the issue on vacant commercial properties across Scotland on Tuesday night.

The poster, titled ‘Notice of Proceedings’, declares: “Failure to use this building for the benefit of the local community, will result in the occupation and expropriation of the property, by the local community for the local community.

“Neighbourhoods have for too long had no say or ownership of local institutions.“ Rise Scotland spokesperson

“Whilst this property lies empty and derelict thousands of our people are forced into poverty, hunger, homelessness and in extreme cases death. We have grounds to believe the land banking of this property is a direct contributing factor to these problems.

“It is for the above stated reasons that we request that this empty property is put to a use that directly benefits society or actions will be taken to ensure it does.”

Speaking to CommonSpace, a Rise Scotland spokesperson said: “The possible community regeneration of these buildings can go far beyond helping the homeless, we want to see these buildings providing neighbourhoods with a place to enjoy life.

“Neighbourhoods have for too long had no say or ownership of local institutions, we believe this leads to social isolation and a direct cause of poverty within our communities.

“Reclaiming spaces for public use can provide the foundations in which we can build new local economies and start to empower thousands of working class people who have been abandoned by the current political and economic institutions.”

The Scottish Greens have also been consistently opposed the practice, calling for a tax on derelict land to fund house-building and incentivise job creation in poor areas. While Green proposals to include such a tax in the Land Reform Act 2016 were not agreed by the Scottish Government, SNP membership voted at the party’s spring conference this year to explore the option of taxing the value of undeveloped land.

READ MORE: Scottish Greens advocate taxing vacant land to combat housing crisis

Rise’s campaign comes amidst a dispute on the issue and wider housing policy between think tank and campaign group Common Weal – a vocal opponent of land banking and advocate of a radical new housing agenda – and Homes for Scotland, the “voice of the Scottish homebuilding industry” which represents around 200 organisations in Scotland, responsible for 95 per cent of new homes being built for sale.

Nicola Barclay, Chief Executive of Homes for Scotland argued in The Times this week that the Scottish Government’s target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 is harmful to private sector growth and that it would not solve the housing crisis.

Ben Wray, Head of Policy at Common Weal, who earlier this month criticised the Scottish Government for increasing subsidies to developers in the private rented sector, was quoted in Scottish Housing News describing Homes for Scotland’s position as “out of touch with reality”.

Wray said: “The profit-motive in housing is […] the very reason why more affordable housing is not being built by the private sector, as rising property prices and land values make it more profitable to sit on land than to build on it.”

Homes for Scotland hit back at the criticism, with Barclay writing a letter to the editor of Scottish Housing News in which she claimed that her viewpoint had been misrepresented, and denounced the notion of land banking as a “myth”.

READ MORE: Ben Wray: The 10 actions we can take to fix housing in Scotland

She wrote: “It is also exasperating to see the myth surrounding land banking being trotted out again. Despite a number of studies, no evidence has ever been found to substantiate claims that this is being used to restrict the supply of homes or housing land.

“With it simply making no sense for developers to allow land that they have bought to lie idle when the only way of getting a timely return on their investment is to build and sell homes, the main constraints on the use of land for housing are related to obtaining all of the necessary approvals and agreements – a process which is lengthy, complex and unpredictable.”

Wray responded to these remarks, stating: “Barclay believes land banking by house builders to be ‘a myth’ that she is ‘exasperated’ by – then how does she explain nine UK house builders in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 owning 615,152 housing plots of land as of December 2015, which if used would quadruple the number of houses built that year?

“Perhaps they have used them all since then? Or maybe none of the plots are in Scotland?

“Barclay argues that it ‘makes no sense’ for developers to sit on land, which perhaps gets to the roots of our disagreement. Common Weal believes that our profit-driven housing market incentivises private developers to keep the supply of housing low so that house prices (and profits) remain high.

“Consequently, there is no short-cut to tackling the systemic problem of inequality if we are going to achieve affordability.”

Picture courtesy of Ed Webster

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