Edinburgh's housing crisis: SNP and Labour should put politics aside because 'good homes make good lives' – Susan Dalgety

Labour’s promise to build more houses in Edinburgh could not have been more emphatic.
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The party’s manifesto for last year’s council elections stated that “Labour will start a programme to build at least 25,000 council-owned homes within ten years, including enough accessible and larger family homes to meet need”. Twelve months on, and that pledge has been watered down to 2,500 new council houses over the next decade. So what went wrong?

Quite simply, there is not enough money in the kitty. The council’s business plan for housing has been hit by a 28 per cent rise in building costs. Projected revenue from council house rents has been cut by more than £1 billion after rents rises were pegged at three per cent.

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And Labour’s hopes that the Scottish Government would match-fund any housing investment coming from rental income have not yet been realised. And are unlikely to be. The Scottish Government’s cash flow is as precarious as the council’s.

The minority Labour administration has tried to spin its way out of this disaster by changing its pledge from 25,000 ‘council-owned’ homes to 25,000 ‘affordable’ ones, hoping the private sector and housing associations will plug the gap. But this will be cold comfort to the thousands of people desperate to find a home of their own, and who are priced out of Edinburgh’s over-heated housing market.

A two-bedroom flat in Gorgie-Dalry – a traditional location for first-time buyers – will set you back upwards of £200,000, which would require a minimum deposit of £10,000 (five per cent). How many young people have access to that kind of cash? As the new housing minister, East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan, pointed out only days before he was appointed, the market prices out “the young, key workers, families on low incomes, and those starting out in social care, nursing, teaching or other professions”.

It would be all too easy to criticise council leader Cammy Day for making promises he knew he couldn’t keep. When Labour published its manifesto last year, building costs were already through the roof and rising, and there was no indication that the Scottish Government would match-fund Labour’s promises.

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But I hope Paul McLennan, himself a former councillor, resists temptation and instead sits down with Councillor Day – and the leaders of Midlothian, East and West Lothian councils – to find a sustainable solution to our region’s housing crisis. The east of Scotland – with Edinburgh at its heart – is the economic powerhouse of Scotland, but there is price to pay for that success. As the population grows and demand outstrips housing supply, so even the most modest homes become unaffordable for many.

Edinburgh needs more affordable homes if young people are to get on the property ladder (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)Edinburgh needs more affordable homes if young people are to get on the property ladder (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
Edinburgh needs more affordable homes if young people are to get on the property ladder (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

The government’s plan, Housing to 2040, was only published in 2021, but like Labour’s Edinburgh manifesto, it will need updating in the face of unprecedented inflation, particularly in the construction sector. We need to take party politics out of housing. As the housing minister said only last week, “good homes make good lives”. Now it’s his chance to turn that rhetoric into practice. Pick up the phone minister, call Councillor Day and together get Edinburgh’s housing crisis fixed.

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