Affordable Housing (Rural and Island Areas)

First Minister’s Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament am ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Llafur

To ask the First Minister, in light of reports that only four homes have been approved nationally under the affordable housing initiative for key workers scheme, whether he will provide an update on what efforts the Scottish Government will make to address the reported housing crisis in rural and island areas. (S6F-03136)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Between April 2016 and March 2023, we have delivered more than 10,000 homes in rural and island areas. We are working with local authorities and registered social landlords to encourage utilisation of the £25 million key workers homes fund where there are identified local requirements. I am pleased that three local authorities are actively looking to bring forward proposals in rural communities. We will invest nearly £600 million in affordable homes across Scotland this year, including significant investment in rural and island areas through our mainstream affordable housing supply programme, as well as our demand-led rural and islands housing fund and rural affordable homes for key workers fund.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Llafur

I have spoken to NHS Highland on numerous occasions about health services at Portree hospital in the Isle of Skye. Each time I do so, it comes back to me saying that it can recruit, but the people whom it recruits cannot find a home and so cannot take up the post. Therefore, the First Minister will understand my concern that the £25 million Government fund to provide key worker housing has bought only four homes. What is wrong with the scheme? Why is it not working? Will he take matters into his own hands and fully implement the recommendations of Sir Lewis Ritchie’s report? Will he ensure that those key workers have homes to live in in Skye?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I share the aspirations that Rhoda Grant has put to Parliament today. NHS Highland has a close working relationship with Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association, which has supported NHS Highland in providing housing for key staff in Broadford. Four flats have been leased for nurses, three of which are supporting the international recruitment project that brings skills into the locality to meet some of the shortages that we are experiencing. The remaining flat is used for on-call staff. The board also leases two family homes for specialist staff located at the new Broadford hospital. All houses and flats in that development are fully occupied.

I hope that that reassures Rhoda Grant that, where these projects come forward, they are fully utilised and deployed. There is an invitation to public bodies to come forward with proposals to access the fund. The fund has not been fully utilised, so, from this podium, I encourage public authorities to come forward with their bids to address some of the issues that Rhoda Grant raises.

The issues that Rhoda Grant raises underpin the issues that Mr Ross and Mr Cole-Hamilton raised with me today about having accommodation available for staff in rural areas. I acknowledge that that is a problem. My long-term leadership of the convention of the Highlands and Islands over many years in government taught me that important lesson about the interconnectedness of housing. I encourage public authorities to come forward on the measures that will address those issues.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Access to affordable housing remains one of the key factors driving depopulation in our islands. There has been significant Scottish Government investment in recent years, but can the First Minister say more about the Scottish Government’s approach to working with key stakeholders to ensure that empty homes are brought back into use and that enough new homes are being built in both rural and urban areas of the Highlands and Islands?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I recognise the importance of good-quality affordable housing in rural and island communities to address some of the public service delivery challenges that exist.

Dr Allan and I have discussed that issue on many occasions in taking forward issues in relation to the islands. We are working to increase the supply of affordable housing in rural and island areas. An investment of £3.7 million has been made in the Scottish empty homes partnership, which is making a real difference, with more than 9,000 homes having been brought into use since 2010. I want to see all local authorities and partners working together to consider all available options. The Government will be very much part of that discussion. The Minister for Housing, Paul McLennan, who is listening to these exchanges, will take forward the issue as a priority in order to ensure that we address the challenges that exist in many of the communities that Dr Allan represents.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

A freedom of information request has revealed that Scottish National Party ministers have no idea how many houses will be built in Scotland in the coming years. Under the Scottish Government’s national planning framework, record low levels of land are coming forward in the development pipeline. What urgent steps will ministers take to review the Scottish Government’s national planning framework? Why are ministers being so slow to take forward permitted development rights to build new homes in rural and island communities?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr Briggs needs to be aware of the Government’s record on housing—[ Interruption .]

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Let us look at the data. I am all for helpfully bringing data to the Parliament to inform parliamentary proceedings—it is part of my commitment to open government. Since 2007, 40 per cent more affordable homes have been delivered per head of population in Scotland than in England, and 70 per cent more than in Wales. [ Interruption .]

I will repeat that so that everyone can hear it: 40 per cent more affordable homes have been delivered per head of population in Scotland than in England, and 70 per cent more than in Wales. Scotland’s overall new house build completion rate in 2022-23 increased to 43 homes per 10,000 people. That was higher than the number in Wales, which was 18, and higher than the number in England, which was 38.

The Government is determined to ensure that we put the resources in place and activate private investment so that we can deliver the houses for people, because the Government has a formidable record on housing construction, which we are proud to proclaim to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

We will move to constituency and general supplementary questions.