Wednesday April 7th 2021
Midlothian is facing a housing crisis. As Scotland’s fastest growing local authority, the number of households in Midlothian has risen by 15% in over a decade, putting a strain on the council budget that is unparalleled anywhere else in Scotland. In the Borders, where I lead the council, we face similar challenges. The debate over how we expand our towns, welcoming in new faces and fresh talent while preserving the essential character of our communities is a difficult one and often controversial. We need more housing, both social and private but this must be done in a compassionate way that respects our natural environment and does not result in residents feeling marginalised in their own towns and villages.
Midlothian is a rapidly changing community but while the population has continued to grow, the infrastructure, services and funding needed for residents to flourish has not followed. With the population set to increase by another 13.8% by 2028, the number of children in the area is set to dramatically increase, heaping further pressure on already underfunded childcare services. More teachers will also be needed, more waste collection, extra community policing teams, more mental health providers for our young people and greater numbers of road maintenance workers to tackle the increase in potholes from heavier traffic.
The same goes for social housing. There are over 4000 households on the social housing waiting list and with only 300 properties becoming available most years, supply far outstrips demand. Put simply, we need more affordable housing stock in region but that requires serious long-term investment that does not look to be forthcoming.
But we should not only talk about housing, we should be talking about providing homes. A home is a springboard to so many things; having a safe and warm roof over your head means that your kids can go to school feeling cherished and nurtured; that you can think about getting a job because you have a home to come back to at night; that your family can stay together under one roof and not worry about where you might be in a month or weeks’ time.
The number of homeless people who died in Scotland rose by 31% in 2019 from 2017, and rose a further 10% last year.
The number of children living in temporary accommodation has reached the highest level on record. At the end of March 2020 there were 7,280 children living in temporary accommodation due to homelessness. this is the highest since records began in 2002 and represents a 7% increase on the previous year.
Having a home matters, having a home is important and the Scottish Conservatives are committed to delivering 60,000 new affordable homes, including 40,000 in the socially rented sector. We will support our construction sector to get back to pre 2007 levels of housebuilding and we have pledged to end rough sleeping by 2026.
But these homes have to fit into our local communities and councils have to be supported to provide the services that these communities need. I will explore this more next week; our councils need a fairer funding model so that they can keep up with the changes in our communities and keep providing the services that we all rely on.