On a regular basis I get emails offering content for this blog. Most are ‘cold calls’ selling some product/service or other. Unless they are from a company/person I already know in some way, they get rather short shrift. Just before Christmas though one such email caught my attention. It was from the Scottish Government suggesting a piece about housing. Now that’s not the normal topic of this blog but as I read on, it sort of made sense.
The email was in connection with the ongoing (to end February) consultation about housing in Scotland to 2040. This consultation is about an open conversation across Scotland on the decisions that are needed to ensure we meet our housing obligations and desires.
The consultation document and resources focus on a set of vision and principles (pdf here). This is a high level vision intended to be ambitious and aspirational, based on a person-centric approach and a set of principles providing a guide to possible policy avenues. It is difficult to really see any problems with these; they are aspirational and desirable and it is hard to argue with them.
However, being high level they do not really address the question of ‘how?’. These are the ambitions, but how will they be brought about? The devil of the deliverability will be in the detail.
Reading the consultation document with a ‘towns hat’ on however, some gaps become more apparent. Towns are mentioned twice; once in the context of the need for transport to them and secondly when it is stated town centres are rejuvenated by more people living in them. Quite; but how do we solve this problem? We have been talking about “Living over the Shop” since before I became an academic (i.e. a very long time ago).
It is a scandal that in many of the towns across Scotland there is empty, unused and unloved space above ground floor. Housing experts know better than me why this is, but this is an unused asset for Scotland. Also, the focus in the consultation on rural and remote places and cities misses the point that towns are the places most Scots live in, and they need to be the focus for more concentrated living. it is vital that this is thought through,
The other gap in the consultation is on the supply side and the changing nature of the market, most obviously with Airbnb. Since the initial email, Kevin Stewart has announced a clamp down on Airbnb – and not before time. We need to make sure that the changes in the economy are reflections of our needs and desires and in our taxation system. How do we harness innovation to meet these needs and not have behaviours focused on avoiding costs and responsibilities or to line personal pockets? The idea of Airbnb is not a bad one; its operationalisation has been damaging to some cities and places in ways that were never envisaged. This is often because the community has been sidelined at the altar of the personal.
The consultation paper should be read and responded to. Views are sought until the end of February.