THE ideological pursuit of mortgage-backed and privately owned homes helped poison and nearly bring down the world economy, and was a major cause of the current housing crisis, according to one of Scotland’s top architects.

Malcolm Fraser – chairman and author of the Scottish Government’s 2013 Town Centre Review and an award-winning architect – outlined his vision for housing in Scotland by bringing town centres back to life and improving quality of life for all.

In a new report published by the Common Weal think-tank, entitled Housekeeping Scotland, he discourages the idea that the housing crisis can be tackled through high-volume, low-quality new builds in the suburbs.

Fraser outlines a plan to reinvigorate run-down town centres through enhanced efforts to repair and renew Scotland’s 34,000 empty homes; lobby Westminster for the reduction of VAT on repairs; allow local authorities to compulsorily purchase vacant sites cheaply; and introduce a land value tax or derelict land tax to encourage development and reduce land speculation.

He also proposes a new financing model for building public rental housing, increasing the value put on high-quality construction apprenticeships and the building of homes based on the best use of Scotland’s natural resources, as well as homes that are desirable and built to last.

Fraser concludes his report by calling for a “Central Housing Unit” to co-ordinate and lead the various government housing initiatives in Scotland.

“The United Kingdom’s housing policies have been ideologically driven, and have led to the current crisis of strangled investment, under-provision and a general flow of power and money from civic society to the wealthy,” he writes.

“UK housing has suffered greatly from its politicians’ fixation with a single form of home and tenure, the mortgage-backed and privately owned home.

“But it is clear that, even if it was desirable to only have this orthodox model (which it is not), not everyone is going to get a mortgage; and it is also clear that the ideological pursuit of this helped poison, and nearly bring down, the world economy, as well as being a key contributor to our current housing crisis.

“While Scotland has shown some appetite for broadening our housing horizons it needs to set out a clear agenda for achieving a diverse and sustainable market, that suits all incomes and interests, while providing the shelter that is a fundamental right for all.”

Common Weal director Robin McAlpine said: “Housing very often comes up as one of people’s top priorities when they’re asked about what government should be doing, but too often the agenda is set by so-called volume housebuilders who simply want permission for more and more low-quality new build.

“What is so valuable about this report is that it asks what a proper, integrated vision for housing and urban development in Scotland would look like if the policy was designed for people who live in houses rather than people who make profits out of building them.

“Any report which concludes that designing the places our children play so they are bathed with sunlight is more important than a quick buck is a report that people should read.”

Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, said the last 10 years had seen Scotland position itself very differently from Westminster, putting social justice at the heart of all policy.

“This report highlights how creating place and communities using strategic housing investment in town centres delivers on social justice, economic growth, community and importantly on sustainability and the environment,” he said.

“Scotland is a nation of towns with two medium-sized cities so it is what we do in towns that will ultimately determine our social and economic success. I believe that this new thinking, alongside Scottish Government policy such as Town Centre First, can be a driver to deliver a relatively simple but effective solution.”

He added: “Take Kilmarnock, last year it was awarded Scotland’s Most Improved Town – five former town centre retail sites were developed for almost 200 new council homes and the Council HQ moved almost 900 staff into a former Whisky Bond in the town centre. The resulting footfall lifted the fortunes of the town and these new communities were given fresh hope.”

Fraser will launch the report today at IdeaSpace, the SNP conference fringe festival at the Science Centre.

Source: The National

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