Housing regeneration – a welcome return to the early 2000s

Sheila Gilmore welcomes the commitment in Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech to the regeneration of truly affordable housing.


For a housing ‘geek’ like myself it was good to hear housing issues given priority in Jeremy’s speech to conference. A commitment to regeneration ensuring that equal numbers of truly affordable homes would replace what was knocked down was very welcome.  By truly affordable I mean low-rent council or housing association homes, sometimes collectively referred to as ‘social’ housing, a term I don’t like.

Edinburgh Council in the 2000s was doing exactly that, able to do so because we had a Labour Government and a Labour-led Scottish Government too. For example we demolished the three high-rise blocks in Oxgangs , not to ‘gentrify’ but because these blocks were riddled with damp and refurbishing them would have been sending good money after bad. They had had these problems from the beginning. When residents and councillors were making the case for funding I remember one meeting where tenants tossed damp mouldy sheets across a table  towards Margaret Curran (the then Scottish Minister for Communities and Housing) to make their point!

All tenants were given a ‘right to return’ to a new home on the site. In practice not all chose to do so because they got settled where they had moved to (they were not moved into temporary accommodation but into an alternative permanent tenancy, but with the right to return once new houses were ready). But we were able to build the same number of low rent homes as there had been in the flats, so other tenants and aspiring tenants had the benefit.

The key to this is  adequate funding. Properly low-rent housing requires a substantial level of subsidy. Traditionally this has come from government, and this is what enabled Labour in Edinburgh not only to rebuild in Oxgangs but to bring about similar transformations in Hyvots, Southhouse and Moredun as well as in the north of the city.

Since 2007 there has been a change in Scotland. In Edinburgh, demolition of similar high-rise blocks to those in Oxgangs has resulted in a much lower proportion of low rent homes being built, and therefore ‘right to return’ could not be promised. In Pennywell and Sighthill apparently only 25% of the new homes will fall into the low rent category. Admittedly some will still be described as ‘affordable’ , being mid market rent or low cost home ownership.  There is a need for such housing too but it isn’t a substitute for what was taken down.  It should be an addition.

I know my Labour councillor friends are not doing this because they have become ‘neoliberals’ (this part of Corbyn’s speech having been hailed as part of the ending of neoliberalism).  Their choices have been severely constrained by lack of funding. The choice is often either not proceeding with the much needed regeneration and new build, or compromising to get decent quality homes built.

What changed in Scotland in 2007? The SNP became the Scottish Government. Undoubtedly the coming of a Tory-dominated government in 2010 made things worse everywhere.  But here’s the thing: in Scotland we now have extended borrowing and revenue raising powers.  We could be applying this to housing right now.

An incoming UK Labour government too will have to make the resources available to secure the type of regeneration Jeremy spoke about.  The tone and language of the speech made the suggestions sound much more radical than they really are. Much needed and sensible certainly – but perhaps some of us can be permitted a wry smile at the prospect of councils being able again to do  what we were able to do under the ‘New Labour’ government.

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8 thoughts on “Housing regeneration – a welcome return to the early 2000s

  1. How many social housing units were built between 2000-2007?
    How many were sold off due to “Right to Buy” 2000-2007?

    How many are being built right now, yearly in Scotland—Wales—England ?

  2. Really? A healthy return to a period when only 3 houses were built? The present Scottish Government is already doing most of whats in Labours BRAND NEW manifesto and gone further. Instead of just mealy mouthing about having a review about PFI they abolished it completely.
    So while Labour as usual gives us nothing but empty rhetoric and non intent the SNP Government gets on delivering on the List of Labour promises none of us will ever see under Labour.

  3. Unbelievable !!! trying to claim when Labour was in government in Scotland they built more low rent housing than the current SNP government.

    SIX COUNCIL HOUSES were built in the whole time Lab/Lib was in government.

    LAB/LIB did not have the tory austerity to deal with at that time.

    LAB/LIB even tried to return £1.5 billion to Westminster because they couldn’t think of anything to do with it, (hint-bloody more council houses would have helped), thankfully the SNP government was able to drag the money back from Westminster when they came to power.

    Any “housing geek” would know labours abysmal record on housing in Scotland.

    1. Council houses are not the only social housing. My own Housing Association began building new homes in 2003 with support from the Labour Government. Indeed, higher support than the current Government offers

      1. Do you honestly think that nullifies labour abysmal record on council house building, hothersal try’s to use that excuse it doesn’t work for him either.

  4. “The key to this is adequate funding. Properly low-rent housing requires a substantial level of subsidy.”
    Why? I have asked this question before on Labour Hame but I have never had it properly explained. Why do housing associations (there are over 100 housing associations in Scotland) need a ‘substantial level of subsidy’ to build new houses? Why dont they use the rent they collect to build new?
    Take a housing association with 1000 homes; average rent, say 300 pounds per month. That brings in £3.6m per year. Why is that money not used to build new homes?
    Which makes you think, what happens to the rent housing associations collect if they are not using it to renew existing stock? Wheres that all going?

    1. Because much of it is required to maintain and improve the houses they currently have. Many of these are over 50 years old and are now showing the problems of age and building methods

    2. Richard, I would recommend that you join the Board of a Housing Association. All your questions would be answered there

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