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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 17:52 GMT
Home improvement plans unveiled
Councils will be able to force owners to make improvements
Measures to force property owners to carry out improvements on run-down homes have been unveiled by the Scottish Executive.

Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm also set out plans to increase the amount of affordable housing.

He gave details of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, which aims to improve the condition and quality of private sector property stock.

Mr Chisholm said a "culture change" in property care was needed.

He was speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing's (CIH) annual Scottish conference on Tuesday.

He said the bill focused on measures designed to encourage and, where necessary, require private sector owners to keep their homes in good condition.

There is still too much focus on the needs of people who want owner occupation
David Orr
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

The minister said: "We need a culture change in Scotland so that people accept the responsibility involved in owning a property.

"Quite simply, owners are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of their buildings.

"Where they don't take responsibility, housing conditions deteriorate, neighbours can have severe problems and public health can be affected."

He added: "We must continue to transform housing in Scotland, raising the quality of homes in which people live."

New measures set out in the bill include:

  • Giving councils new powers to deal with poorly maintained buildings.

  • Allowing targeted support for repairs and improvements where it is most needed.

  • Enhancing powers to address housing problems in run-down areas.

  • Giving new rights to private sector tenants to have repairs carried out.

  • Allowing the introduction of the mandatory single survey scheme in the house buying and selling process.

    Mr Chisholm also officially opened an affordable housing development and suite of offices in the centre of the city.

    And he detailed plans to help first time buyers get a "foot on the property ladder".

    A new Homestake shared equity scheme will enable properties, either developed by housing associations or available on the open market, to be bought in part by a homebuyer with a housing association funding the balance with a Homestake grant.

    Jim Pollock, Chair of the CIH in Scotland, will also address delegates later on Tuesday and is expected to call for a review of the current right to buy policy for council tenants.

    Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm
    Malcolm Chisholm unveiled the new plans at an Aberdeen conference

    Campaigners argue that council house sales remain a major factor in the acute shortage of affordable housing.

    Mr Pollock admitted that it was time for the Scottish Executive to review current policies.

    Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: "One of the downsides of right to buy is that it's a 'one fit all' scenario and that's not what we need in the 21st Century.

    "We need to look at how this policy is impacting on different local authorities across the land. Aberdeen will have a different dimension than Glasgow, as they will from the Borders or Shetland.

    "The institute believes there should be more of a move towards local power to make local decisions."

    Housing group, Shelter, described the plans as a wasted opportunity.

    Scottish director Liz Nicholson said: "While there are many excellent landlords in the private rented sector, the poor standards of the few are increasingly turning the private sector into a tenure of last resort.

    "If these landlords don't improve the way they manage properties - including the return of rental deposits - those renting privately will become increasingly marginalised."

    She continued: "The private rented market is stagnating in Scotland, in sharp contrast to the flourishing markets elsewhere in Europe.

    Row over measures

    "It is in the interest of all good landlords in Scotland to ensure that the reputation of private renting in Scotland is improved if the sector is to be reinvigorated."

    David Orr, Chief Executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, argued that too few homes are available for rent.

    He said: "I think there is still too much focus on the needs of people who want owner occupation.

    "I think ministers need to have a greater understanding on the pressing needs of people who are very badly housed or homeless at present, for whom the only realistic solution is rented housing."

    Mr Orr added: "More than anything else, we need to see policy measures that will stimulate and increase the volume of rented housing."

    Scottish Tories Communities spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "The greatest achievement in the Scottish housing market was the introduction of the right to buy by the Conservatives in 1980.

    "As a result, 400,000 more people in Scotland now own their own homes.

    "We will continue to protect the right to buy for current tenants from being watered down by the Labour -Lib Dem executive and the SNP - both of whom would put at risk the right to buy for many people in Scotland.

    "I remain concerned that the Labour-Lib Dem executive is being overly prescriptive in its approach and is putting unfair levels of bureaucracy on the private landlord and the local authorities."

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