Ruth Davidson says Scotland 'should build more new towns'

Ruth DavidsonImage copyright

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Ms Davidson said many people in their 20s and 30s are unable to buy a house without help from their parents

Scotland should build a new generation of new towns to help ease the country’s housing shortage, according to the Scottish Conservative leader.

In a speech in Edinburgh, Ruth Davidson will argue that radical solutions are needed to ensure young people have a realistic chance of buying a home.

And she will claim that the country is facing the biggest housing crisis since the aftermath of World War Two.

The Scottish government said it had a good track record on affordable homes.

Measures have included ending the right-to-buy, delivering 68,000 affordable homes since 2007 and a commitment to deliver at least 50,000 more by 2021.

The call for a series of new towns was first made by the independent Scottish Housing Commission, set up by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, two years ago.

Its report said that as many as eight new communities are required across Scotland.

Ms Davidson argues that new villages such as Chapelton of Elsick outside Aberdeen – where landowners, developers and the local authority came together to design a new community – should be the way forward.

She wants the Scottish government to do more to encourage similar developments, and for new powers be given to local authorities over new town development if necessary.

In her speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, she will say that “market failure” is depriving thousands of young people in their 20s and 30s of the ability to buy and own their home.

She will add: “The last time we had a housing crisis on this scale was in the aftermath of World War Two.

“Back then, politicians had the courage to act in order to get building. We now need to find the same courage to address today’s needs.

“It is time to seize the moment – and look at a series of new generation new towns.”

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Ross Watson/Geograph

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Cumbernauld was one of five new towns built in Scotland after World War Two

Five new towns were built across Scotland in the decades following the end of the war – East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Cumbernauld, Irvine and Livingston – to ease overcrowding in the country’s major cities.

But these original new towns quickly become associated with poor planning and architecture that was hastily built from unattractive grey concrete.

Ms Davidson will stress that it is important to learn from the mistakes of the post-war generation as well as from its ambition.

‘Quality design’

She will add: “We are already seeing some beautiful new villages and towns springing up in Scotland which have put high quality design, affordable homes, and community values at the heart of their development. That’s the way to go.

“By acknowledging that we are not just building housing, we are in the job of creating homes, nurturing communities, and adding to the beauty of our country.

“Because if new developments complement the local environment and avoid the disastrous design choices of the past we can all get behind a new generation of towns and villages across the country.”

Ms Davidson’s other proposals will include:

  • Creating a new Housing Infrastructure Agency
  • Promoting the Housing and Infrastructure portfolio to cabinet rank in the Scottish government
  • Creating a clear plan to ensure Scotland returns to building 25,000 homes a year

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Ms Davidson says developments such as Chapelton of Elsick could be the way forward

Responding to Ms Davidson, Communities Secretary, Angela Constance, said: “We have delivered over 68,000 affordable homes since 2007, reintroduced council housing and have supported more than 23,000 people into home ownership.

“By ending the right to buy we have increased the supply of affordable homes.”

Ms Constance said the rate of construction for new build social housing had been faster than elsewhere in the UK.

“We are on track to deliver even more houses by 2021 with our commitment to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes – including 35,000 social homes, backed by over £3bn investment during the lifetime of this parliament,” she added.

“And we’ve delivered greater action and investment to bring empty homes back in to use – a cost-effective way to increase housing and aide community regeneration.”

National strategy

Scottish Labour said it had been arguing for a national housing strategy – but that the Tories could not be trusted to deliver on policies.

Housing spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: “We need to ensure there is the capacity, the available land and the resources to be able to deliver the houses for social rent that are required.

“A national house building strategy with local delivery plans for every local council area of Scotland would do just that.”

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said it was “really positive” to see the Scottish Conservatives focusing on housing.

He added: “However, the focus has to be on providing homes which are genuinely affordable for those who need them most and which stay affordable, rather than feeding the next cycle of boom and bust in the housing market.”

Scottish Labour’s housing spokeswoman, Pauline McNeill, said her party wanted to see a national house building strategy which sets out the numbers of houses to be built in each area and allows for proper planning and delivery.

She said: “Building more homes is a twin track route to a better nation – housing costs are a huge driver of poverty and investing more in house building would kick-start our economy as well as tackle the scourge of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.”

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said it was the “height of hypocrisy for the Tories to claim to care about Scotland’s housing crisis”.

He added: “Their own disastrous right-to-buy policy obliterated our social housing stock and has left us with a legacy of people unable to afford to buy a home and stuck in increasingly expensive private rented accommodation.”

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