​Solutions for housing shortage crisis are as far away as ever - John McLellan

On the face of it, a short report to today’s finance committee exposes the depth of the housing crisis facing Edinburgh, with just short of 5000 households in temporary accommodation, a 38 per cent leap from the start of the pandemic.
A street view of West Town - the developers want to create a 'walk-around village feel'.A street view of West Town - the developers want to create a 'walk-around village feel'.
A street view of West Town - the developers want to create a 'walk-around village feel'.

The report seeks approval to extend 26 contracts for the emergency accommodation totalling just over £5m. But that’s just for three months. In fact, I understand Edinburgh’s total bill for temporarily housing families in crisis is over £30m a year.

That’s to deal with the people the council knows about, but new data published this week by Homes for Scotland, the house-building trade association, has revealed just how bad the situation really is.

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Its survey of 13,690 people across Scotland, a huge sample, indicates that 28 per cent of all households, around 693,000, are experiencing some sort of need. As there are around 240,000 households in Edinburgh, and the city has ten per cent of the Scottish total, it’s reasonable to estimate that’s nearly 70,000 homes.

As 14.9 per cent reported having at least one so-called “concealed household” – a person or a group of people living in someone else’s home, often a parent, or people in shared accommodation who want to move on but can’t ─ this is equivalent to about 36,000 additional Edinburgh households which do not show up in official statistics.

Therefore, Edinburgh’s latest Strategic Housing Investment Programme – the official proposal for housing supply submitted for approval to the Scottish Government last month – which aims for around 11,000 new affordable homes over the next five years, doesn’t get close.

But with a delivery rate over the past six years of just over 1,000, even that’s ambitious, and made virtually impossible after SNP finance secretary Shona Robison slashed £200m from her affordable homes grant budget.

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Applying the ten per cent estimate to other Homes for Scotland findings, a further 12,000 Edinburgh homes are overcrowded, 18,500 householders are struggling to afford their accommodation, and 8,500 people are living in homes which are unsuitable for their needs, particularly the disabled or infirm.

It’s a desperate picture, but solutions seem to be as far away as ever while problems are all too easy to find; the council says it has neither the money nor the land and doesn’t trust developers, developers say they can’t get permission quickly enough, investors say Scottish Government policies like rent caps make Scotland unattractive, builders say they can’t get enough labour, and people struggle to afford what does get built.

But the sites are there, and not just Granton where 3500 new homes are expected.

The Drum Property group has just submitted a planning application for 7000 homes in what’s known as “West Town,” the site between Gogar and the Airport argued about for years, and aims to start work by the end of the year and the first phase ready for occupation in early 2026.

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The nearby Garden Village has been a battleground for even longer and not a brick has been laid, while the much-vaunted Parabola residential development at Edinburgh Park has barely shifted and attention is focussing on the new concert arena.

Maybe the whole of West Edinburgh needs a special designation so work can progress quickly, just as the airport is able to throw up terminal extensions, but one way or another, the accelerator pedal needs pressed to the floor.

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