John Ruddy says in the face of our housing crisis we should reconsider the idea of new towns and, following examples elsewhere, develop schemes that meet our 21st century needs.

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, has a housing crisis. Not enough houses are being built, especially ones for affordable rent. We need radical ideas which can boost house building, while making the homes cheap enough to run, as well as buy or rent. New towns have had a bad reputation, with places such as Glenrothes and Cumbernauld becoming by-words for poor planning. But a new development in the south west of England shows that a new twist on the idea can provide a self-sufficient, low carbon community in close proximity to skilled employment opportunities, encouraging people to use sustainable modes of transport.

Back in 2005, East Devon District Council identified a need for additional housing in their area, above and beyond that which could be accommodated by their previous planning strategy of allocating development land adjacent to existing settlements. Driven by the expected economic growth of Exeter, they planned a new community on a greenfield site 5 miles to the east. Located adjacent to both the A30 trunk road and the main line to London Waterloo, there were good transport links. It was the first new settlement to be planned and built in Devon since the Middle Ages.

The result, now the first phase of 2,900 homes is complete, is a development of a truly new community, complete with new primary schools, shops and parkland, all designed to reduce dependence on the car for work or shopping. Also a first is a district heating energy centre, which provides affordable heating to the residents as well as to the nearby Business Park. Already the carbon footprint of Cranbrook has been massively reduced compared to conventional developments. The next phase will take it to nearly 7,000 homes, and it will become one of the largest towns in East Devon. Affordable housing has ensured a mix of occupiers within the town.

This is a model we need to copy here in Scotland. But we should go further. We also need to reduce the cost and time for construction. Use of prefabricated sections would reduce costs and speed up construction. Use of greenfield sites adjacent to existing transport links will also reduce costs, as land values rocket in anticipation of planning.

These would not, of course, be the sort of prefabricated housing that was built after the war. Modern prefabrication techniques can produce homes to a high environmental standard, with an excellent quality of finish. Often used by people who are undertaking a self-build project, with mass production the costs of manufacture can be reduced further, and time for erection – and hence costs – can also be cut.

But the planning system across Scotland is bogged down with regional development plans which provide for minimal levels of additional housing. With house building having been at historic low levels for several years now, we need to increase construction to make up for lost time. The Scottish Government needs to step into the planning process to create the extra space needed for the additional housing we so desperately need.

In East Devon, mixing affordable housing with market price sales has achieved a real sense of community, rather than creating sink estates. This type of “new town” has genuinely lived up to Nye Bevan’s vision of a community where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street. It’s the sort of radical thinking for our housing policy we must pursue now, when over 150,000 households in Scotland are on council housing waiting lists.

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19 thoughts on “A new twist on an old idea

  1. The biggest problem for housebuilding in Scotland, and in particular, the building of social housing, is the availability and cost of land. Many social builders are put off development because of the costs of purchasing land, which is added on to the cost of the housing and undermines the 3P rate of support they get from Government grant (the HAG). Further, the location of any land that they can afford is often in places which make it difficult to support that housing, an issue particular to rural and Island housing. The additional costs generated by such issues are then loaded on to the rents, making some social housing increasingly unaffordable.

    Until such fundamental issues are addressed, worthy approaches such as that put forward by John Ruddy, will founder.

  2. Four things spring immediately to mind;

    (1) As soon as a place becomes “desirable”, affordable housing will soon become unaffordable due to market forces.

    (2) Greenfield sites are politically sensitive and will have high levels of resistance from many directions.

    (3) Mitigating (2) but contradicting the article, planning in Scotland is on the side of the developer, not the local residents, and is therefore not a block to this plan.

    (4) Due in part to (3) but also Scottish Govt policy, house building in Scotland has been moving apace with many, many thousands having already been built and many, many thousands more in the process of being built and planned. Affordable housing is an integral part of that. However, see (1).

    A personal note. My wife and I recently left the small village we lived in because it was soon to become a small town due to all the planned housing. Our former house with views over the countryside will soon be in the middle of a mass of tall “rabbit hutch” houses with barely a gap between them (often none) and tiny gardens. The developers assured us that was what buyers wanted. According to them, space, big rooms and gardens are unfashionable. Aye right!

    In short, while not agreeing with the tarmac-ing of greenfield sites, I can see where the author is coming from. And while well meaning, it has many drawbacks in both desirability and in being implemented.

  3. While in itself it isn’t a bad idea, there are over 37,000 long term empty homes in Scotland.

    The banking crisis left many people with flats and houses they couldn’t sell due to negative equity, so when their personal or family circumstances changed, they became accidental landlords forced into renting them out.

    I’m not an expert in the costs but surely it makes sense to make much better use of the housing stock making it fit for living in, we have rather than plough investment into new towns?

    But I’m open to all radical ideas and the author’s is indeed one worth considering as part of many options to try.

  4. I agree with all the comments if we did go down that road again I hope we would not make the mistakes of the past
    IE schemes with no schools surgery chemist shops no busses but a lot of local resentment against interloupers from Glasgow .But that was the early 60s when I was 8 .

  5. In the UK home ownership is primarily looked upon as an investment and money making opportunity thus we have never ending inflated unrealistic house prices and folk’s selling up and chopping and changing. On the contrary in Europe in particular France and Germany they have a tendency to rent properties to live in and the folk’s are happy doing so, as for homeowners in France in particular they buy a property not as an investment as such but rather as a home to live in and as a result a family will live in a couple of properties in their lifetime and will only move if it’s out of necessity for instance having more children and needing more room. I would advocate a change in the UK law that would ban private buy to let properties and l would also have a law that says no person should be allowed to own more than properties and the reason for allowing them 2 is one could be their main residence and the other there holiday home but they would not be allowed to rent either of them out.

  6. John Ruddy,
    You seem to be well read on social housing. May be you can help me. I have always wondered, if there is as you say a housing shortage (“over 150,000 households in Scotland are on council housing waiting lists”.) , why then do Scotland’s housing associations not use the money they collect in rent to build more houses.

    1. Simples. Because we have to use much of that money to maintain and update homes. Housing associations can only develop with Government support (HAG). However they do put much of their own private finance into development, at the cost of adding the loan costs to the rents. Think mortgage

  7. I think a lot of the problem can be traced back to Maggie selling of the Council housing stock .
    There is something else a Scottish Holyrood committee has issued a report saying the Scottish OAP population will soon outstrip the working age population they say this will have Scottish budget implications .
    I would think it will also have implications for long term housing plans.

  8. I lived in the desert’s wi window’s – during the 70’s.

    Spent half my life waiting for a bus – no community centre’s – no pub’s – a few shop’s.

    The Police – felt like I was living in a South African township.

    Labour Scotland’s – grey shame.

    1. Thank you for your comment Billy
      We had no shops no centres no doctors surgeries no chemists no cops no schools in the scheme no buses did have a pub Tennants made a fortune rest of town did not want us Glesga
      yins doon here taking oor jobs so we did have gang warfare .1963 I was 8
      We became a new town in 1966 .
      years later I was told my scheme was known as Spam Valley .
      I don’t live there now but it through the efforts of local people and councillors does now have all of the above hopefully minus the gangs.
      As it should have had when built ice cream vans and vans converted into mini travelling shops made a mint our houses were brand new with gardens that was a big thing

  9. Found this in the paper in 2012 when trying to set up Universal Credit a senior official at the treasury who were opposed was on the phone to a senior official at the DWP When a shouting match started it was that loud Ian Duncan Smith who was in the same room as the DWP guy heard the Treasury guy saying your boss is mad your all completely mad we are not going to have this .
    IDS then told his guy next time he phones tell him that if he ever speaks to anybody in this department like that again he will be eating his own ball for breakfast.
    Chancellor George Osbourne argued against Universal Credit thought it was an idiotic idea irresponsible and reckless to try it .
    They never thought it would get through but PM David Cameron overruled the Chancellor .
    Apparently IDS in a visit to Glasgow in 2002 was converted to compassionate conservatism .
    Sir Nick Clegg has claimed in coalition he saved the Universal Credit budget .But when the Tories got power on their own they slashed its budget .
    Nick Clegg said it was a good idea .But when they slashed the budget it was strangled at birth .
    Now it seems Cabinet Ministers are very nervous about the rollout of Universal Credit and uncertain whether the budget goes far enough to be a fix .
    When Esther McVey briefed ministers privately some Ministers and advisors think she has still not got a grip on this.
    Also more than 3 million households will lose out from the introduction of Universal Credit despite the extra money in the budget .
    Bruce Adamson the children and young peoples commissioner for Scotland has spent 18 months travelling all over Scotland
    He has found in Scotland hundreds of thousands of children who cant access enough food.
    He says Universal Credit is causing Havoc across Scotland .
    Last year along with his counterparts from England Wales and Northern Ireland asked for UC to be abandoned they warned it was driving families into destitution .But to no avail .
    On Friday he will meet Philip Alston the UN special Rapporteur on extreme poverty to Glasgow .
    He says efforts to tackle poverty are largely focused on Edinburgh Glasgow Dundee he will say rural poverty has been ignored he says there are significant levels of poverty in Dumfries and Galloway Aberdeenshire and the Highlands .But it is hidden and doesn’t get captured in surveys and studies
    People in rural communities have to pay more for essential items .
    They are not linked into public transport and they have to travel to find secure work which pays a decent wage .
    I got all this in Today Thursdays Times pages 10 and 11 .
    There is a lot more .
    It seems UC is a large part of this .
    That phone call from the Treasury to the DWP maybe the Treasury guy was so upset because he had to wait 42 mins to get through and like me got told it was 62 mins this morning

    1. David the problem with all the political parties opposition to Universal Credit is dismal for example it has become the norm for foodbanks to spring up all around the UK and it has become acceptable. Politician’s are now ambivalent and accepting of this disgusting state of affairs, and in the supposedly great UK folk’s are reduced to the embarrassment of trudging off to the foodbanks for meagre scraps to feed their family. It’s my view that the rise and acceptance of foodbanks as the norm has been welcomed by politician’s who have shed their responsibity to ensure that thrre is a social security system is adequate to look after the folks in need. Many folks who need to use foodbanks are in work and have accumulated debt because of the late payments to top up their income through Universal Credit through no fault of their own. Universal Credit should be scrapped as soon as possible and a return to the previous system.

  10. “Because we have to use much of that money to maintain and update homes..” Sounds as if you have more than a passing interest in Scotland’s lucrative housing association industry Jim.
    And no its not ‘simples’. And I am going to explain why.
    Take an average rent, what? say £300/month (that is probably on the low side. I dont know).
    x 12 = 3600/year.
    “Because we have to use much of that money to maintain and update”. That is a lot of maintaining and updating.
    And that is my point; Scotland’s housing associations are money sink holes. They generate eye watering amounts of money.
    But where does it go? It cant all go on ‘maintaining and updating’?
    I just checked Irvine HA website, currently in excess of 2,200 units.
    3600 x 2,200 = 7.9m/year. ‘Simples’? I dont think so.
    From their website it states that they started in 1993 with 1500 units. Since then there has been a number of stock transfers. In 1997 number of units = 1900, after stock transfer from Dumfries & Galloway HA.
    In 2004 Coylebank Tennants Coop transferred but no mention of how many units. There is reference on the website to ‘new housing developments’ but no detail.
    So in the last 35 years of trading Irvine HA has ‘turned over’, as in rent money collected, what? 100+? 150+ million?
    Jim, ‘simples’ doesnt cut it any longer. That kind of mind set, taking the public (voters) for granted, that, we know best, condescending attitude is the reason Labour is where it is.
    So go on, your the expert in old Cunninghame North, (aye, remember the good days), tell me how many ‘New’ houses Irvine HA has built in the last 35 years?
    (and then I will divide by 100 million and work out the unit cost).
    Ooooops. that is for my next post.

    1. I have been chair and am currently a Board member of a Housing Association. Like my fellow Board members, I receive no payment for that. Further, Housing associations are heavily regulated and have to show the regulator financial projections 30 years into the future. House maintenance is not a single event but cyclical. Do you really think the regulator would allow HAs to build up “eye watering amounts” of money. Two other notes. Irvine HA is not independent but owned by the Liverpool based HA, Riverside, and for the last three Parliaments housing in Scotland has been controlled by the SNP, including the passing of several housing acts. Labour’s mind set? I think not

  11. Jim,
    OK I agree, the SNP are no better than Labour when it comes to managing housing associations.
    But do you get the point I am making? If there is 150,000 households on waiting lists as John Ruddy claims then I think there is a problem with the way Scotland’s housing associations are run.
    They collect hundreds of millions of pounds in rent annually, but where does it go?
    That money should be used to renew the existing estate, to build new houses, to improve the housing stock. Maybe some housing associations do this, I dont know? That is why I am asking you.
    Please placate my curiosity. Do you know how many new houses Irvine HA has built? Lets say in the last 5 years. In that time Irvine HA must have collected over 40m in rent alone.

    1. That should be on their website. I am on the Board of Atrium and now chair its investment committee after five years in the Chair. I understand where you are coming from. Why not join the Board of one of the Associations in the Irvine area such as IHA or ANCHO. By the way, ANCHO are only now looking at building again after a break of many years. This is solely because of their amalgamation with Cairn HA

      1. The number of new builds commissioned is not on Irvine HA website, not that I can find. I emailed them for this information but so far no reply.
        Maybe you can tell me how many new builds Atrium has commissioned in the last 5 years.
        Another way housing associations use to increase their housing stock is, the purchase of privately built houses on the open housing market. Is that a method your association has used in the last 5 years?

  12. Thank you for your comment Ted
    I agree with a lot of what you say I think John MacDonnell has said Labour will end it .
    Kezia Dugdale stated on question time that all parties labour SNP liberals agreed with the initial concept of Universal Credit .But then the Chancellor George Osbourne cut the budget disaster .And people are paying for it .Foodbanks are warning every day now of the stress on the system .
    As you say they have become the norm they are in the papers saying because of this donations are slowing up .out of sight out of mind.
    Last October at Crosshouse hospital I went to a public q and a session Shona Robison in attendance .
    The guy sitting next to me was not called to ask his question but he told me afterward he was in charge of foodbanks in the area his question would have been why were staff from the hospital having to use a foodbank to get by .
    After what I saw on QT I hope we can bring Kezia back after her court case with wings concludes let bygones be bygones .
    Also what I read in the paper slanging matches between officials IDS in favour George Osbourne never wanted it
    So I don’t know how to do it but can we not have an official investigation into what went wrong and it has

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