Progress of region’s affordable housing

Jim Hume MSP.
Jim Hume MSP.

STIMULATING affordable housing in the Borders is essential as demand continues to increase and politicians at both national and local level have been discussing the issue in recent days.

In July last year Scottish Borders Council’s scrutiny committee held a hearing on affordable housing in the region and last week they were updated on what progress has been made during the intervening 12 months.

Measures that Scrutiny members thought would help stimulate the housing market in the region included: extending the grant assistance to private landlords for the provision of affordable housing; the provision of work space provision within new rural housing developments should be considered; changing demographics and work patterns should be taken into account by planners; and removing the 10 per cent discount for second home owners in the region.

However, Council Tax regulations do not allow for changes to 100 per cent charging for second homes, and planning officers reported that council planning policies already include provision for demographic and work pattern changes.

This left a report on extending grant assistance, inclusion of work space provision to be put to councillors for them to consider what the current issues are regarding affordable housing in the region and how these issues need to be addressed.

At last week’s scrutiny meeting councillors were told that SBC is working better with Borders Housing Association and over the past two years an average of 100 houses a year have been built.

Berwickshire Housing Assocition is the main landlord in the district and over the past six years they have completed a number of new housing developments, despite finance proving more difficult to obtain during the economically stringent recent years.

Some of their more recent developments include:

•Gunsgreen Hill in Eyemouth – a development of 18 family houses completed in August 2005. The development includes a children’s play area and the first family home in Europe to be powered by a fuel cell.

•Wellfield in Swinton – two family homes designed to be energy efficient. This development won a Scottish Design Award and featured in the RIBA Journal.

•Erskine Road and The Glebe in Chirnside – a development of 19 houses completed in June 2006. The development has eight family houses and barrier free bungalows for rent, four houses for sale as part of the Rural Home Ownership Grants programme and seven houses for sale.

•Todlaw, Supported Housing Project in Duns – Communities Scotland gave project approval for this housing developmentto replace the Marchmont care home.

Recently approval has been received from Communities Scotland for land acquired at Acredale in Eyemouth and Berrywell in Duns. Negotiations to make further site acquisitions are currently on-going.

On a national level South Scotland MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson, Jim Hume, has called on the Scottish Government to come clean on its plans for the housing shortage in Scotland.

Mr Hume said: “Housing is an issue that the Government must focus on with over 250,000 households in Scotland currently on a waiting list for a home.

“The Scottish Government has committed itself to building 6,000 socially rented homes a year but there is already doubt as to how this will be achieved.

“Housing associations and charities are concerned as to whether the Government will make this target and what the consequences will be of missing it.

“Only a quarter of these homes will be available for social rental with the rest being comprised of shared equity homes and houses for mid-market rent.

“The Cabinet Secretary must come clean on just how many homes for social rent will be made available annually.”