Housing shortage: We are at a tipping point in Scotland's property market - David Alexander

11th Apr 2024

The latest data for all newbuild starts in Scotland makes for grim reading. At a time when Scotland needs more homes available for homebuyers, more properties in the private rented sector, and an enormous increase in the volume of social houses being built we find that last year saw a substantial fall in the overall number of newbuild homes being started.

This is not a small reduction in numbers but a very real, very large fall of nearly 25 per cent in all sector newbuild starts broken down into a 20.3 per cent reduction in the private sector and 34.9 per cent fall in social housing. The social housing figure is the lowest number of newbuild starts since 1996.

While there will be a range of reasons for these figures including rising material prices, a shortage of skilled labour, delays in the planning system, and a reduction in the social housebuilding budget by the Scottish Government, the stark fact remains that we have an enormous number of people wanting to buy a home, needing to rent a property in the private or social housing sectors, coupled with a declining volume of new houses being built.

This is at a time when four local authorities have declared a housing emergency; when hundreds of thousands of people are on social housing waiting lists; when tens of thousands are homeless and living in temporary accommodation; and when the private rented sector is facing unprecedented demand.

House prices are rising, rents are rising, and frustration is growing at the lack of available homes to buy or to rent, and yet the solution – which is to build more homes – is not there and we are actually going into reverse.

As I said in last week’s column newbuilds make up the bulk of house price growth in Scotland. Falling volumes mean that those prices will rise further as demand outstrips supply and we, therefore, face a serious shortage of homes for the coming generation to own or rent.

We are clearly at a tipping point in the property market in Scotland which requires a sector-wide solution involving all participants in housing. Resolving this emergency will require housebuilders, investors, banks, landowners, landlords, property agents, property industry bodies, as well as Scottish and local government involvement to create a market that works for homebuyers, and for landlords and tenants in both the private and social sectors. This is not a time for politics but a time for action to resolve a situation which is already untenable, and which is in danger of getting substantially worse before it gets any better.

We cannot simply stand back as hundreds of thousands of people see their dreams of having a home dashed by a system which is not keeping up with demand. There is little point in finger-pointing or apportioning blame when there is such a serious situation which needs to be resolved. Better to unite and activate all interested parties in providing a solution to the current housing crisis and start to produce answers. Failure to do so has the potential to result in thousands of people in Scotland being let down by a society unable to provide a roof over the heads of its citizens.

David Alexander is CEO of DJ Alexander Scotland Ltd - The Scotsman