Ruth Davidson will today outline plans to tackle Scotland’s chronic housing shortage by building up to eight new towns as part of a Tory drive to switch the political debate away from independence and back to “bread-and-butter” issues.
The Scottish Tory leader will argue the country is in the grip of the worst housing crisis since the aftermath of the Second World War and argue that “radical” solutions are required to ensure that Scots in their 20s and 30s have a realistic chance of buying their own homes.
Calling for a clear plan to build 25,000 homes are year, she will propose a new generation of new towns, the creation of a Housing Infrastructure Agency to support major developments and the Housing Minister being promoted to the Scottish Cabinet.
However, she will argue that ministers and developers must learn from the mistakes of the wave of post-war housing developments by avoiding the “disastrous design choices of the past” and ensuring they nurture communities.
Speaking to the IPPR think tank in Edinburgh, she will say that the proposals are part of a Scottish Tory drive over the next year to “try and turn a page” and focus on “the day job” of domestic issues.
Although she will admit the Brexit talks will dominate the political agenda over the next few months, she will argue the coming 12 months is the first year in 2013 when Scotland’s political parties will not be fighting an election or referendum campaign.
Scottish Tory strategists believe they have to broaden their message beyond their strong pro-Union stance if they are to have a chance of ousting Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP at the 2021 Holyrood election.
They plan to build a comprehensive programme for government over the coming years, focusing on Holyrood’s devolved powers, in the hope of convincing voters tired of the Nationalists that they are a viable alternative.
Housing developers have reported they completed 16,498 new homes last year, up one per cent on the previous 12 months, but the number of properties started fell 2 per cent. Completions were more than 36 per cent down on 2007 and below 2010.
First-time buyers needs an average deposit of more than £21,000 to get on the first rung of the Scottish housing ladder, typically around 16 per cent of the purchase price.
Ms Davidson will argue that the post-war generation of political leaders facing a housing crisis “had the courage to act in order to get building”.
She will say: “We now need to find the same courage to address today’s needs. Market failure is depriving thousands of young people one of the most basic opportunities in society: the ability to buy and own your home.”
The Scottish Tory leader will cite a report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors proposing between six and eight new communities are built across the country.
“It is time seize the moment – and look at a series of new generation new towns,” she will say.
“We are already seeing some beautiful new villages and towns springing up in Scotland which have put high quality design, affordable homes, and community values at the heart of their development. That’s the way to go.”
Outlining the Tories’ political direction over the coming year, she will say there is a “yearning among many to see a political debate in Scotland focus more heavily on the bread and butter issues that matter to us here at home.
“So while we in the Scottish Conservatives have rightly complained that the SNP has failed to focus on the day job, we need to demonstrate our wish to set our sights on that task too.”
But Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour’s housing spokesman, said: “No one will trust the Tories to deliver these policies. Ruth Davidson talks about the worst housing crisis since World War II, but forgets to mention it was a radical Labour government that fixed it.”
Angela Constance, the SNP’s Communities MInister, said: “We have delivered over 68,000 affordable homes since 2007, reintroduced council housing and have supported more than 23,000 people into home ownership.
“By ending the right to buy we have increased the supply of affordable homes. In addition, the rate of house-building completions across all sectors puts Scotland ahead of England and Wales and we outperform the whole of the UK in new build social sector completion rates.”