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20/04/2016

Scottish Conservatives promise to invest in housing and infrastructure

Words: Laura Edgar
Ruth Davidson

The Scottish Conservatives have pledged to build 100,000 homes by the end of the decade as well as to invest in the road and rail networks, as the party bids to be the largest opposition party.

In the manifesto, A Strong Opposition – A Stronger Scotland, party leader Ruth Davidson writes that First Minister is not the job “the majority of Scots have in mind” for her.

Instead, she says she and her team are best placed for the “strong opposition” position.

The elections will take place on 5 May.

Housing

 

After five years of focusing on demand, something the Scottish Conservatives have “welcomed”, the manifesto says the focus should now be on supply.

Over the next five years, the party want to see a 10 per cent increase in new house completions across all sectors so that around 25,000 new homes are built every year.

The manifesto states: “We would envisage around half of these - 50,000 – to be affordable homes across different tenure types.”

The party wants to see the investment rate for housing associations protected and also work with them on the delivery of more homes.

Additionally, the party would not extend the right to buy scheme to housing associations. The delivery of affordable housing, the manifesto explains, will depend on “cooperation” with the private sector on “innovative mid-market rent models”.

The Scottish Conservatives believe that local authorities should compile publicly accessible brownfield land registers to “allow house builders to explore more easily while a presumption to build on brownfield land should also be introduced for applications with a major housing element.

Stating that there are an estimated 27,000 empty properties around Scotland, the manifesto says “every effort” needs to be made to bring them back into use. This would be done by building on the “success” of help to buy and introducing a help to rebuild programme.

The manifesto also says that “too often” young people who make a “positive” contribution to their rural communities are “forced to leave their homes due to lack of housing or unaffordable rents”.

Fiscal and non-fiscal incentives would help rural private owners bring properties into the affordable sector, explains the manifesto.

Planning

 

One of the most “crucial areas” in delivering 100,000 homes is the planning system, according to the manifesto, which is still the “source of much frustration amongst both builders and local communities”.

“Without pre-empting” the current review of the planning system, the manifesto says it is “clear” that the system needs to be “significantly sped up”.

Doing this will require “additional resource” and it should also “explore options of linking planning fees to the performance of planning departments”.

The planning system is, the manifesto states, an example of where the wishes of local communities are “often overridden by central government priorities”.

It cites the spread of onshore wind farms as something where planning decisions are overturned on appeal centrally.

It says: “If a major development application decision is taken in line with the Strategic and Local Development Plan the appeal should be decided in a full council meeting, as opposed to being referred to Scottish ministers. This has to go hand in hand with a better consultation process during the drawing up of Strategic and Local Development Plans."

Planning system exemptions should be introduced to allow retiring farmers or new entrants to build a home on agricultural land.

Transport

 

Investing in the road network is “vital”, especially for rural communities. Therefore, the party thinks the government should maintain the share of the budget that goes to road investment.

Upgrading trunk roads, including the A75 in the south-west and the Al in the Borders, would provide a “huge boost to residents, visitors and businesses” in each area.

Support should be increased for community bus schemes in rural areas by extending the free bus pass scheme to community transport. Progress is needed on rail projects such as high-speed rail, improvements between Aberdeen and the Central belt as well as a feasibility study on a direct line between Perth and Edinburgh.

Smaller but “locally invaluable” projects such as a suburban Edinburgh South railway should also be furthered.

Energy

 

The Scottish Conservatives believe the existing nuclear capacity should be “protected for the long term” and options should be explored on how this can be achieved “realistically and affordably”.

Additionally, Scotland’s “decades of experience in offshore drilling and hydraulic fracturing, with the best environmental safety regime in the world”, should be used as people lose their jobs across the North-East, to “safely” extract unconventional gas with planning consent from communities.

The party thinks ways to incentivise the expansion of energy storage capacity need to be found.


A Strong Opposition - A Stronger Scotland can be found here (pdf).


The Scottish Green Party’s manifesto sets out the party’s commitment to campaign for a “radical” programme of reform to deliver housing and use empty homes and vacant land. It also pledges to support investment in public planning services, community-led development plans and extra safeguards to make sure people’s participation is “respected”. It can be found here.


Image credit | Gareth Miller

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