Experts on rural housing welcome change yet urge more focus on rural provision
RURAL Housing Scotland (RHS) has welcomed the publication of the Scottish Government’s plans for reform of the planning system.
New housing and planning minister Kevin Stewart MSP outlined the proposals on Monday, planning to reduce the time it takes to get new homes from their design stage to being ready for people to move in.
The changes are claimed to have a sizeable impact on both urban and rural communities.
It was Alex Neil MSP, who initiated the independent panel in 2015 to review changes to planning law and stages when he was cabinet secretary for social justice, communities and pensioners’ rights between 2014 and 2016.
“Reform needs to recognise these challenges if rural communities are to benefit as well as our cities.” Alistair Cameron
The independent review was to focus on six key issues: development planning, housing delivery, planning for infrastructure, further improvements to development management, leadership, resourcing, skills and community engagement.
Debbie Mackay, a board member of RHS and director of planning with property experts Savills, said: “This shows real commitment to meaningful reform of our planning system and is hugely welcome.
“The immediate actions and challenging timescales they commit themselves to, should give real pace to the reforms which are badly needed.
“Speed and urgency are welcome, however they must also be balanced with inclusion of changes which will create a step change in provision of housing for rural and island communities where the lack of housing can create a spiral of decline in some of our most fragile areas.”
“This shows real commitment to meaningful reform of our planning system and is hugely welcome.” Debbie Mackay
Related to the wider issue of planning is the specific consequence of fuel poverty, which is a disproportionally large problem in rural areas.
According to the 'Housing in Rural Scotland' report by the Scottish rural college (SRUC), this is especially due to limited fuel choices and the preponderance of hard to heat and hard to insulate traditional buildings, often in the private sector.
This problem further reduces the affordability of rural housing. In remote rural Scotland, 18 per cent of households are in fuel poverty compared to 12 per cent in accessible rural areas and seven per cent in the rest of Scotland.
Research by SRUC found that in rural local authorities, the number of households is expected to grow by 180,000 by 2033 (21.3 per cent of 2008 housing stock) due to growing population levels, and particularly an increase in the number of single occupant households.
“However they must also be balanced with inclusion of changes which will create a step change in provision of housing for rural and island communities.” Debbie Mackay
RHS convener Alastair Cameron added: “There’s much in this to welcome: the objectives for speedier decision-making and ensuring effective community engagement are right, and we’re pleased to see a commitment to involving rural interests in liaison activities, and to ‘island-proofing’ the effects of planning policy and practice.
“As ever, it’s in the detail where things might prove trickier. In our experience, and as the Scottish Government knows, rural housing development can be especially challenged by environmental, infrastructural and cost constraints.
“Reform needs to recognise these challenges if rural communities are to benefit as well as our cities.”
Following a further stage of consultation, the Scottish Government expects to put the reform plans forward in a new Planning Bill in 2017.
Picture courtesy of Sean Ó Domhnaill
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