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November 1, 2007

Communities Scotland abolished

The SNP administration have continued with their ‘thinning of the quangos’ by abolishing Communities Scotland. But this begs the questions – ‘Who will now undertake community regeneration?’

Robbie Dinwoodie and Gerry Braiden

The Scottish Government’s plans to ease the housing shortage – including a target of 10,000 extra homes a year and banning the sale of new social housing – was last night branded a “lost opportunity”.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the umbrella group, said top-down approaches to tackling the nation’s housing shortages had repeatedly failed and argued that councils be given the tools to revitalise the affordable housing sector.

But it welcomed the SNP’s move to abolish Communities Scotland, claiming all policy and funding decisions over housing and regeneration should clearly and directly lie with local and national government, and “not an unelected intermediary”.

Following the release of Firm Foundations – The Future of Housing in Scotland, Health and Wellbeing Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the current rate of 25,000 new houses a year being built in Scotland was inadequate, challenging councils, developers and builders to increase that to at least 35,000 a year by 2015.

advertisementLocal authorities would also be handed incentives to be landlords, such as funding for new council housing, in a bid to end the “30-year rundown” of the practice.

The right to buy would end on new social housing built by councils and housing associations, with an exception for existing tenants already eligible to buy their houses who are forced to move.

In addition, the SNP administration also announced plans to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder, through a mix of government grants, shared equity schemes and mortgage-related products.

But Harry McGuigan, Cosla spokesman for community wellbeing and safety, said the organisation believed the SNP had missed the boat. He said: “There can be no getting away from the fact that the Scottish Government has, with this announcement, missed an opportunity.

“The government talks of empowering communities but in the same breath centralise powers away from local government, away from communities. If this is not to be yet another lost opportunity to revitalise housing from the bottom up, we need to see some significant transfer of powers from the centre.”

However, the proposals were better received in the nation’s property hotspot, Edinburgh.

Councillor Paul Edie, housing convener at Edinburgh City Council, said: “Previous governments have funded new homes in areas of the country where there has been a surplus of affordable housing. This pattern of investment is not sustainable when the shortage of affordable housing in Scotland remains mostly in Edinburgh and the south-east.”

It was also welcomed in Highland Council. In the past decade it has sold 5644 houses, not built any replacements and has suspended right to buy in many communities for five years.

Margaret Davidson, chairman of the Highlands Housing Committee, said: “The Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing housing supply mirrors the ambitions of the council’s.”

In Glasgow, where most of the social housing belongs to GHA, the local authority said it, along with housing associations, was already working towards providing 13,000 new homes by 2013 but said the quota could only be met with central funding.

George Ryan, convener of development and regeneration, said: “As long as government funding commitments are met, Glasgow will have sufficient housing stock. We would welcome any measures that support the provision of access to affordable owner-occupied housing.”

Housing charity Shelter Scotland warned that the new target must include 10,000 affordable homes for rent a year for the next three years, while the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations welcomed the scrapping of the right to buy.