To kick-off a new Common Weal Policy pre-election series on housing, Leah Aaron looks at Scotland’s existing housing stock and poses some possible solutions as well as questions for those standing to be our elected representatives in May
COMMON WEAL Policy introduces a new series of briefing sheets in the run-up to the Scottish elections on housing. We believe this issue is at the heart of the problems with Britain’s me-first economy, and requires closer scrutiny than it currently receives in Scottish politics.
Housing is an economic issue, a social issue and a cultural issue – the sort of housing we have tells us a lot about the sort of society we live in.
Are the homes we have pleasant to live in? Is the housing market stable? Is housing too expensive? Do people have enough control over their homes? We intend to explore these issues and more, and offer possible solutions.
We will also suggest questions that should be posed to those who are standing to be our elected representatives in May.
Researcher Leah Aaron begins by looking at Scotland’s housing stock.
The Housing Stock
The majority of Scotland’s housing stock is over 50 years old, according to statistics from the Housing Statistics for Scotland survey, creating particular issues when it comes to maintenance and upkeep.
Whilst the slum-clearances of the postwar years were well-intentioned, huge swathes of tenements in large cities were demolished in favour of new ‘schemes’ far outside city centres, loosely based on Corbusier’s cite (a well known housing estate in Marseille). Although there were grand plans for these new towns, in many cases corruption and poor planning meant the shopping and leisure centres were never built, creating isolation, poverty and putting huge strain on commuter infrastructure.
Poor insulation is a huge problem and a factor in Scotland’s dire fuel poverty rates, which according to the Scottish Government’s own statistics stand at around 39%. Cold, damp conditions both in social housing and private homes have contributed to some of Europe’s highest rates of asthma, and numerous studies have shown how poor long term thermal comfort impacts health.
The Scottish Government is signed up to the target of ‘no one in Scotland to be living in a hard to heat, draughty home by 2025’, but Existing Homes Alliance Scotland say a four times increase in investment in energy efficiency of the existing housing stock is needed to meet the target.
Substandard energy efficiency in our homes is also an obstacle in meeting Scotland’s ambitious emissions reductions targets, as heating and cooling accounts for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Although new-built homes tend to be better insulated, they are often much too small, and unlike our older housing stock, is not built to last. Unlike other countries in Western Europe, the UK has no regulations in place that set minimum room sizes, and the Royal Institute Of British Architects estimates that over 50% of new build homes do not meet their minimum space standards. According to Alex Johnstone MSP who spoke on the issue in the Scottish parliament in November, the average UK newly constructed property is 76m2; in Denmark it is 137m2. A 2011 report by IPRR found that the floor space of new homes built in in Britain is smaller than all other European countries except Italy and Romania.
Compounding the cramped conditions, new-builds built by private developers are often built principally for profit, so are cheaper and less hardy materials are used. This results in a much faster deterioration in their condition. Additionally, the Lyons Housing Review (2014) found that high land values is a key driver of poor quality, as margins are squeezed.
An increasingly thriving private rental market exacerbates the poor state of our homes. Throughout Scotland’s largest cities, tenants are finding it more and more difficult to carry out whole-building repairs, due in large part to an abdication of responsibility by buy-to-let landlords who tend to only own one flat in a building. Edinburgh Councils attempt to address these issues through the Statutory Repairs Scheme, though conceptually laudable, was poorly managed and resulted in scandal, leading it to be scrapped in 2013.
– Stronger reinforcement of the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2011 and more rights for private tenants to demand repairs – a review of the Statutory Repairs Scheme and an understanding that repairs should be carried out on the ‘stitch in time’ principle
– Advocate minimum space regulations for all types of home, including converted spaces.
– We must recognize that Scotland’s built environment has been hugely influential, and make maintaining and improving it a top priority.
– An increase in public investment to improve energy efficiency in the existing housing stock.
Questions for Candidates
What do you think needs to be done to reduce fuel poverty and how can we best target groups that are vulnerable?
What solutions do you see to the problems of maintaining areas of shared ownership in flats and tenements?
How can Scotland best achieve its target of getting all homes to energy grade ‘C’ by 2020?