Helping all housing: Scottish Conservatives manifesto

Hew Edgar

Policy Manger (Scotland) (RICS)

The Scottish Conservatives have published a manifesto which places a heavy emphasis on housing, promising to build 100,000 over the next five years, and provides a plethora of pledges to help reach this ambitious target.

The Scottish Conservatives have recognised that current house building levels are far behind pre-recession levels, and that demand for housing far outstrips supply.  As such, they are promoting an holistic approach to housing; one that encompasses all tenures, and this is welcome news.

A combination of housing policies

By combining a priority for the use of brownfield sites over greenfield, promoting offsite construction and self-build, and encouraging local authorities to develop serviced plots, we could feasibly see in increase in house starts. This latter pledge potentially increasing the number of house building participants if implemented correctly.

They have also stated that the increase in planning fees (from 1 June) should only go ahead if they result in better performance of local planning departments. This echoes our response to the consultation earlier this year, and the Housing Minister also shares this view.

Amending the LBTT regime to increase the £325,000 threshold from 2% to 5% could boost activity by negating the “don’t move, improve” mentality that is often charged with a slowing down of activity in the upper-middle to upper price brackets. And, the regeneration of Scotland’s’ 34,000 homes could be tackled by a pledge to introduce a Help to Rebuild programme, which would consolidate the raft of existing loans schemes. Again, a welcome manoeuvre that should increase housing supply.

Compulsory Buying and Selling

The Conservatives are keen to refresh guidance of the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO), which falls short of the need to overhaul the, sometimes, antiquated and fragmented legislation. Indeed, we're very much of the view that UK legislation that made changes to the CPO regime in England - namely, the Localism, Housing and Planning, Neighbourhood Planning acts – could be emulated in Scotland with relative ease; the onerous writing task already being undertaken by drafters at Westminster.

Also of note is the proposed introduction of Compulsory Sale Orders (CSOs), which first arose during the Scottish Government’s discussion around land reform, when the Land Reform Act  was in its embryonic stage i.e. pre-Bill. CSOs, as pointed out in the manifesto, could trigger sales, thus increasing the supply of land, but their introduction does require considered discussion.

Skills development

An intention to address skills shortages and a pledge to focus on skills development across Scotland, will assist their house building ambition, if construction is on their list of targeted sectors. Indeed, it is imperative that they encourage the independent Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the government to amend the visa system to assist the migration of skilled construction workers sector – a key RICS ask in our Five Brexit Priorities document.

RICS policy hits

There were certainly reminders of our recommendations in our manifesto for the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election, and more recent policy publications have been recognised.

A number of the aforementioned pledges echo our own member-led policies, and the manifesto desire to create consistency within the non-domestic rates regime – which will include the large business supplement – across the UK, is an historic policy of RICS in Scotland.

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