Ex-MSP Marco Biagi calls for more action to tackle Edinburgh's housing problems

New powers urged for council

Marco Biagi is seeking to stand again for the SNP in Edinburgh Central
Marco Biagi is seeking to stand again for the SNP in Edinburgh Central

FORMER SNP local government minister Marco Biagi is calling for the Scottish Government and city council to do more to tackle the Capital’s housing problems.

The ex-MSP for Edinburgh Central - who is now bidding to stand in the seat again - said the council’s aim to build 20,000 more affordable homes within ten years was “welcome but highly ambitious”.

And he urged new powers for councils to purchase land for housebuilding, new rent controls to limit prices and a new shared repairs regime.

Mr Biagi’s comments come after Angus Robertson, who is also seeking the SNP nomination in Edinburgh Central, used his Evening News column last week to hail the SNP-led city council’s progress in building and approving a record number of new homes.

Mr Biagi said the overall housebuilding rate had still not recovered to the level it was at before the 2008 financial crisis.

He said: “The council now aims to provide 20,000 lower cost homes over a decade. This is welcome but highly ambitious. In only two of the last twelve years have 2,000 new homes been completed in Edinburgh and that includes properties of all types – i.e. both publicly-supported and wholly private. To bring public alone up to that level will be challenging.”

He said one problem was that there was not enough land and called for powers to enable councils to buy land at affordable prices.

“In addition, new sites coming on the market have been snapped up by homebuilders’ rivals – like hotels and private student residences.

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“A positive development – in theory – is that these student developers should now also contribute to affordable housing. As Edinburgh Central MSP I took this up and, in 2016, the council placed such a requirement in policy. But private sector student housing in general is still viewed too rosily.”

Mr Biagi said Scotland had made significant changes to the law on rented accommodation, including longer tenancies and the need for deposits to be lodged with third parties.

“The law even now allows for Rent Pressure Zones - but four years on none have been introduced. Scotland therefore needs to adopt a new and better form of rent controls. There is no shortage of models around the world to choose from, if there is a will to implement one.

“The only concern is that this must not affect supply. Landlords often argue they are supplying homes. Some are. But others are buying homes that have been standing for a century and renting them out. Without them the home would still exist.

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On shared repairs, he said good progress had been made on the problems of tenement repairs.

But he said: “Edinburgh needs a new shared repairs regime that does not lead to a repeat of the horror stories that filled my surgeries. The pandemic has since swallowed all the space in Holyrood’s legislative timetable, but this absolutely must be in manifestos for the next Holyrood elections in May.”