I can’t believe a whole week has passed since I travelled to Edinburgh to attend Shelter Scotland’s Empty Homes Conference! “Tempus fugit” as one of my more educated friends reminded me this morning.
Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland welcomed delegates to a somewhat draughty St Paul’s & St George’s Church. The keynote speech was from Keith Brown, Minister for Housing & Transport. It was interesting to note that only a short while back in September at the SFHA Conference in Glasgow, he assured us that of the 30,000 homes promised in the SNP manifesto, at least two-thirds would be for social rent. Now, after their housing policy came under scrutiny in Parliament a few weeks ago, he is backtracking saying they will honour their commitment to provide “affordable” homes, the definition of affordable being very much up for debate.
The Empty Homes initiative would certainly play a part in providing much-needed homes and is a step in the right direction, but again it is all down to funding and a willingness by local authorities to work in partnership with other agencies. The idea of reducing VAT on all home repair and improvement work to 5% would certainly drive projects forward and is one which the Liberal Democrats support.
For full details of the Empty Homes initiative click here:
Throughout the day, we participated in a wide range of workshops discussing finance strategies used in other areas and how to engage with empty home owners. We heard from South Ayrshire Council on their Empty Homes Loan Fund.
The conference ended with a debate on proposals to introduce a Council Tax Levy on long-term empty properties. While Keith Brown earlier claimed that £30 million could be made from the levy, his figure disregarded exemptions that would have to be made on council and RSL properties or those properties earmarked for demolition. Although the levy is still at the consultation stage, it is likely that local authorities will decide on the level to be implemented in each case. The consultation ends on 10th January 2012 and can be accessed here:
On leaving the conference, a short walk took me to a very festive, though chilly, Princes Street. I was looking forward to a cosier evening in Hispaniola (what used to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s favourite drinking haunt before it was made into a restaurant, so I am told) and I was not disappointed.
As I looked up towards Governor’s House en route though, I couldn’t help feeling a nip of irony in the air at the disparity in housing options for Scotland.