Tackling the region’s housing needs

a COMBINATION of the economic downturn, which has halved the supply of new and existing houses, and 50 per cent of households in the Borders struggling to afford house prices, pushed up by people moving into the area, means that dealing with housing demand in the region is proving to be a delicate balancing act.

Scottish Borders Council is currently drawing up its local housing strategy for the next five years and is asking for communities to make their contributions during the consultation period which lasts until the beginning of December.

Key issues to be tackled are: increasing the supply of affordable housing; addressing the housing and support needs of the increasing numbers of vulnerable people; improving housing conditions; tackling and preventing homelessness.

Figures show there is a need for more housing in the region but with pressure from the Edinburgh market forcing up prices in the region a two tier housing markets has been identified - one for ‘local’ households and one for those moving into the area.

Housing supply in the private rented sector has increased over the last 10 years, but in some areas private sector rents have also increased - by over 50 per cent over the last five years.

But many people are trapped in the private rented sectors and it is estimated that 80 per cent of households in this sector are unable to afford to buy a house in the current market.

Demand for new houses is rising by 564 every year (461 private and 103 affordable homes) but the reality is that over the last five years there have been 525 completions of private sector houses and 81 social sector houses over the same five year period.

Social rented housing in the Borders has fallen by 43 per cent since the right to buy in 1979 and the Scottish House Condition Survey reveals that 71 per cent of the region’s social rented stock fails the Scottish Housing Quality standard - higher than the average Scottish figure of 66 per cent.

In his draft housing strategy, SBC’s housing strategy manager Gerry Begg said: “In order to deliver these supply targets, the major task for this strategy will be to continue partnership working to overcome constraints, to find new ways to resource new housing supply, and to make best use of the scarce resources, especially existing housing stock.

“The council and its partners have a key role in removing barriers to supply.

“These include funding, land supply, water and sewage constraints, public utilities (physical/infrastructure capacity, approval processes) and flood risk, infrastructure constraints including electricity supply, schools capacity and health facilities.”

Ongoing work includes securing agreements with SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Scottish Water on the required level of investment needed; working with the house building industry to overcome challenges and ensure the industry is informed, resourced and able to meet future challenges; regular identification of land opportunities; securing land; enabling the development of affordable housing through the use of the SBC Affordable Housing Budget and other means.

One way the council sees of tackling the housing shortage problem is by bringing the 1000 empty houses in the region back into the housing supply chain - Berwickshire has 204 houses that have been empty for a number of years.

“Work has started to establish where there are concentrations of empty properties and to find out the specific reasons why properties are left empty, and what the most effective policy responses would be to bring this stock back into use,” said Mr Begg

“The conclusion of this work will be an empty property strategy during the early part of the Local Housing Strategy period 2012-2017,” Mr Begg concluded.

“It is vital that we hear your views to test our assessment of the housing needs in the Scottish Borders, and to see if we are proposing to do the rights things and in the right way.”