I think we can, but we need improve its associated costs while we’re about it.
The sad thing is it needn’t take public money, just public and political will. The pride it can engender, the ‘we can’ mentality could also be another incremental stepping stone towards a ‘yes’ in the next referendum.
We, the Scots, need to quite literally ‘get off our behookies’ and light a fire under our politicians. It’s irrelevant as to who those politicians are, they need prodded into action.
The first thing to understand is that housing, like anything, follows a supply and demand value structure. The second thing to understand is that a great deal of that value structure is dependent upon the pricing of land, which I’ll deal with later. The second part of the equation to create affordable housing is obviously directly related to increasing the market supply.
It’s really not that hard to do, but….
For now, the one big thing I have to ask is why folk are so scared?
For many of them they’re so scared they don’t even think, can’t even allow themselves to think of the obvious solution?
I’m referring them to building their own home.
I’ve talked to lots of folk, their foremost thought is where they can afford to buy and will they get a mortgage?
I can’t recall anyone who initially said “I’d like to build….but” – it has in point of fact become something of an alien concept, building a house. If you discuss the subject there are all sorts of objections thrown up – like buying land, building costs and then, for many, actually getting planning permission, hooking up sewers, power, light, streets. It’s all seen as something only government or ‘big builders or investors’ can or should do.
I hear and see the SNP encouraging immigration, they say Scotland needs people, and I’ve got to agree with that. My question is where are we going to put them without driving up house prices and creating another false ‘bubble’ that in the end will burst while still mostly benefiting the bankers, because, let’s face it, in the United Kingdom, banker’s rarely lose, even when they should be jailed for the human misery their greed so often creates.
Scotland needs housing – I don’t think anyone denies that.
Scotland’s government could draft a universally supported bill and pass the law which allows it to happen, for minimal cost. Land could be set aside, perhaps what’s known as ‘Brownfield’ land, or perhaps simply land that’s already in public ownership and meets certain criteria. (Land reform will be my next blog).
Our government could then set forward a competition with several architectural firms for home designs which are ‘uniquely and traditionally Scots’ in both design and build, homes which won’t be ‘just Barratt-boxes’, but places folk will be proud to help build, create, develop or maintain. These plans should be free to anyone wishing to build, and subject to automatic planning approval at designated site locations. By doing that, much of the perceived obstacle is removed. It’d be good to limit these plans to single family or semi-detached and no more than two story. Ideally there’d be several plan options available for each classification. As codes and requirements change, so they’re updated.
Another big issue is financing; there’s absolutely no reason that the government can’t provide interest free construction loans to qualifying individuals for, perhaps, twelve months, renewable (for a set percentage) for two additional spans. Sometime during those three years you’ll have to convert to a conventional mortgage, so you’d better be finished. If this was done, folk could live in their present homes without undue financial burden. There would simply be no re-payment due during the construction process – funds would be released after proof the last lot were used for the intended purpose.
A big issue is the infrastructure, that’s installed at present under the public purse, but unlike at present, some half of that cost could be re-collected when the home’s complete. It’s really not as much as folk imagine, often as little as one or two percent of the cost of the home. It’s simply rolled into the final mortgage amount.
Next, we need to look into population density. I have a husband that spent his later youth in Livingston, he could only describe it as ‘soul destroying’, so densely packed were the houses. I’ve come to understand that it’s even in decisions like that the pervasive ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ is re-enforced, albeit subliminally. Force folk into what is in effect a commune and there is every chance you may destroy aspiration. Some will rise above it, not as many as should or could though. Imagine if we simply passed a law with two small considerations; that no home may be within ten meters of a boundary line, and that no window may look directly into that of another home within fifty meters. Effectively you’d ensure that homes were built on a staggered plan. Scots would feel they’d room to breathe. To see the sky, to expand their horizons with quite substantial ancillary benefits
In an advanced and wealthy nation like ours, these things shouldn’t be that difficult. When it comes to implementing this, there’d be challenges. Nevertheless I can’t accept that Scots can’t beat those challenges. For example the government itself, as part of the act, could set up a central hub for folk to register for these places. The government could underwrite the loans, and penalties could be severe for misuse. Folk who’s circumstances change, or who walk away simply lose the investment made, which could be as low as 5% funding lodged in an escrow account.
These communities can rebuild Scotland’s heart, a heart so wounded for so many by a recent referendum result, and they could truly do it if we abandon London’s egocentric, selfish and destructively capitalistic ways by limiting their size to perhaps a thousand homes, codifying a need for a mile or two of green-space between them and limiting the floor-space of any retail establishment to perhaps a hundred meters square, which could be very advantageously taxed, with penalties severely imposed on a sliding scale above that. We need to level the playing field between big corporate and the corner shop. Our new communities have to protect our independent trades-folk, for example the local butcher, simply being swallowed up by ‘Asda’ or ‘Morrison’s’, then discovering themselves unemployed on some future day through ‘corporate adjustments’. We can plan our new developments as we plan the future of our communal ‘high streets’.
If we focus on what we can do, with the powers we now have, we can rebuild the heart of Scotland’s communities, we can be a shining light, we can house any who need it. Like the next referendum, the changes required for a ‘win’ won’t happen overnight, but the can happen if we will it. They can also help to prepare the way for that future victory.
We do need more powers in Edinburgh because not all of those we’ve won so far are unusable.