City Deals must not overlook the role of housing in delivering economic growth for Scotland

Cities and their regions across Scotland are on the verge of securing unprecedented levels of capital investment through City Deals. If they are to secure economic growth and deliver equality then we need housing to be considered as core national infrastructure too.

The facts tell us that we have never built enough homes to meet demand, no matter how big we set the target or how much we put into affordable housing. We have a Government commitment to spend more than £3 billion on affordable housing in this parliament, matched by public and private investment from RSLs and local authorities.

Even if we have delivered a significant proportion of the housing target, will we have made the most impact from such a significant investment? Not unless we have put in place the housing infrastructure required to unlock opportunities and to grow our economy. We need to examine what more can be done to combine these programmes of investment to deliver better outcomes and value for the public pound.

In the Edinburgh City Region alone there is an estimated housing need of more than 100,000 homes by 2032, and this level of demand is reflected across Scotland. The scale of this requirement is enough of a driver alone to suggest a new approach is required. The housebuilding sector is continually calling for greater public-private partnerships to improve the way in which we deliver housing and tinkering with the planning system fails to acknowledge what the real issues are. To achieve this scale and ambition and to deliver on the collective investment being made, a more coordinated and less bureaucratic approach to delivering the core infrastructure investment is required.

If we approached housing investment in the same way as we do transport it could raise the profile of housing as a major force in delivering economic growth and tackling inequality. It could target investment in those areas where the evidence demonstrated greatest need and maximum impact towards achieving our vision for Scotland. It could create a balance between national and local investment programmes, rather than all decisions currently being made on a case by case basis. It could speed up the decision making process, enabling the whole sector to deliver more homes, more quickly and at lower cost. It could also have an impact on nationally important decisions, such as where should the next new towns be and what type of Places we want to create.

In the absence of a national programme, Cities and their regions in Scotland could miss the opportunity to deliver generation changing opportunities. Scotland's Cities are about to become uniquely positioned to bring housing and its role as enabling infrastructure in to focus and we must not miss this chance. In the Edinburgh City Region there are identified sites of strategic importance that could unlock land supply for the next ten years, focussing investment and creating great places to live. They are well connected to the road and rail networks, have the potential for high amenity value and if the collective programmes of local and national government were brought together, could create a sustainable future for generations. 

With just three years of the current programme of investment left to run, now is the time to step back, review and act how we invest in housing to deliver a prosperous, fair and well connected Scotland.

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