As the new CEO, I recognize how privileged I am to represent a sector that has an important role to play in Scotland’s social welfare, economic success, and transition to net zero. Just three months into my tenure, I am truly inspired by the passion, determination and resilience of those working in this sector.
However, I also now realize that the home building industry suffers from perceptions that hinder its ability to achieve the full transformative economic and social impact it can have across our urban and rural communities. In addition to losing tens of thousands of much-needed homes that would benefit our entire country, it is also thwarting hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in schools, community facilities, social housing and job creation.
Unfortunately, many myths surround this vital and resilient sector, which is fundamental to the realization of the most basic human rights. Scotland Homes are working hard to dispel this.
The first anecdote I came across was the claim that vast swaths of rural landscape are being sacrificed for the construction of homes. In fact, only 2.1% of the land in Scotland has been built, the lowest in the UK. Prior to the pandemic, residential development was the primary source of reuse of vacant and abandoned land.
Then there’s the cliché about new homes being “rabbit cages”—a cliché without evidence. In fact, our members’ sample data showed that new homes in Scotland are larger than the average floor area of new homes in England and Wales of 96 square metres – 25% larger than the generally indicated figure of 76 square metres. Which goes back 40 years to 1983.
When we talk about home construction, we must realize that this is a multi-tenure sector, serving both need and demand, with a strong correlation between the provision of social and private housing. In fact, another sample of members indicates that 30% of affordable housing is provided by the private sector through developer contributions, with this percentage rising to 90% when contracting is taken into account.
Contrary to popular belief that home building is a get-rich-quick scheme, the truth is that it involves significant upfront costs and risks with a long-term turnaround. It is also a complex and organized process that requires the combination of many different elements including local and national government policy to support it. With increases in cost and delays arising from shortages of labor and materials exacerbating the usual challenges associated with planning and broader approval processes, it has not been difficult to build the homes that Scotland needs.
This is at a time when we are facing a chronic home shortage, with the shortfall now around 100,000 since 2007 alone. Given that home building in Scotland annually contributes £3.4 billion to the economy and supports 80,000 jobs, the priority given to building new homes seems clear.
While the sector has already made significant progress in providing new energy-efficient homes in recent years, we recognize the need to move forward with improved building standards to support the Scottish Government’s ambitious carbon-neutral goals by 2045. The role of new housing in green spaces cannot be underestimated. Economy – New homes are highly energy efficient. They’ve already reduced carbon emission levels by 75% since the baseline levels of 1990 with more improvements coming, and cheaper than older properties.
My ambition is to see home building recognized as a force for good and welcome in our communities. I will do this by focusing on very compelling facts.
Jane Wood is the new CEO of Homes for Scotland
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