Every new report about Edinburgh’s future population throws up more questions about the future shape of the city and how the demand for affordable housing is going to be met in a thriving economy.
Three weeks ago when the National Records of Scotland unveiled its forecast that the number of Scottish households will increase by a third of a million in the next 25 years, the political attention was on the importance of maintaining migration levels in order to sustain economic growth and of the pressure on services of more elderly people living alone.
Both are justifiable concerns, but even though the implications for housing supply are just as important they fell off the radar. Put simply, a third of a million more households means a third of a million more houses need to be built and in fact it’s more than that when the need to replace failing stock is included.
The statistics behind the NRS report underpin the predictions needed to guide local development, which resulted in last week’s advice to the Scottish Government by its Planning Reporter that South-East Scotland was going to need 94,000 new homes by 2030, 30,000 more than the previous estimate.
The NRS figures go into great detail about the number, size and age-profile of households expected by each local authority area every year, based on current demographics and lifestyle trends, and so provide each council with a clear gauge to measure progress. “Older people are more likely to live alone than younger people,” explained NRS acting chief executive Anne Slater. “And as more people live alone or in smaller households, the number of households will rise at a faster rate than the population.”
Things like births, deaths and divorces are easier to predict than the economic swings and political decisions which influence migration levels, so the NRS produces two forecasts for high and low expectations.
The prediction for Edinburgh is that if everything goes as well as hoped then in the next ten years 38,400 new homes will be needed on top of the existing 233,369 households. The total 20-year demand will be for an additional 69,800 units, bringing the total to 303,203.
But let’s be pessimistic and assume Brexit is a disaster, Scotland declares independence and the economy tanks. Maybe not quite Venezuela (yet...) but the low end of the NRS forecast takes Edinburgh to 254,245 households by 2028 and 268,608 in 20 years’ time. Therefore the worst-case scenario for Edinburgh is another 20,876 homes by 2028 and a further 14,300 by 2038.
Short-medium term estimates put it somewhere in the middle, approximately 30,000 more homes needed in the next ten years, yet a minutely-detailed study of all the land available for development in Edinburgh in November estimated there was only enough land unaffected by planning difficulties, mostly brownfield sites, to deliver 23,329 homes.
This Housing Land Audit estimated the need at that point was for 18,300 units in ten years – in other words not enough to meet even the most pessimistic NRS prediction, about 12,000 short of a middling forecast, and the effective land supply is only sufficient if the city economy bombs.
Where does all this leave the SNP-Labour city council administration’s commitment to deliver 20,000 affordable homes in the next ten years? Even as it stands, there is only enough effective land to hit the target if no other houses are built, and no-one in the administration has yet been foolish enough to propose a ten-year ban on all new homes sold at full-market value.
The current average annual completion rate of all types is 2280 with 11,000 to be built by the end of 2022, compared to a basic annual need for 2800 which property consultants Rettie say should really be over 3000.
There is no escaping the disparity between the demographics, demand and the council administration’s ability to deliver.
Jo will go on the warpath
An unnamed councillor with a tenuous grasp of protecting public money has said the council should fund a fact-finding trip to the USA to see how its troubled IT supplier CGI operates, because the company picking up the tab is a conflict of interest.
Whether it needs five people to go over is one thing, but if anyone thinks my colleague Joanna Mowat will be a push-over just because CGI are paying doesn’t know her very well.