Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 14:53 UK

Rural housing being 'held back'

Builder's tools
The building of new homes has been held back, MSPs said

The creation of much-needed housing in Scotland's countryside has been held back by an over-cautious planning culture, according to MSPs.

Holyrood's rural affairs committee said more needed to be done to address the shortage of homes.

Allowing councils to levy higher taxes on second homes was among recommendations on increasing supply.

Highland Housing Alliance (HHA) has also been held up as a model of best practice in tackling the problem.

The rural affairs and environment committee was responding to a Scottish Parliament report which suggested the planning system was burdened by a centuries-old belief that the countryside should be protected from development.

This was exacerbating a serious shortage of housing in Scotland's rural areas, according to the report.

Its recommendations include giving councils access to measures to increase housing supply in areas where there are serious shortages.

The average house price across rural Scotland was 13% higher than the average in urban areas, according to figures from the Bank of Scotland last September
The average rural price was £186,446, compared with £164,517, it reported.
The bank found the most expensive rural local authority was Aberdeenshire (average £213,559) and the least expensive the Western Isles (average £137,319)

These include the power to raise council tax rates on second homes.

It also advises the rolling out of a partnership system pioneered by the HHA as a model of best practice for other parts of Scotland and an urgent review of the effectiveness of homelessness legislation.

Committee convener Maureen Watt said: "Fundamental to the overall approach taken in this report is that many more houses need to be built in rural Scotland the committee is very clear on that.

"It is also clear from the inquiry that more needs to be done to give local authorities more powers to deal with pressures caused by a lack of rural housing in specific geographical areas.

"This includes the possibility of allowing them to increase council tax charges on second homes or to access compulsory purchase powers in areas of high need where land is lying empty. We also need to improve the way private landowners, housing groups and other organisations work together to create homes for rural communities."

HHA is a not for profit development company set up with the aim of building more new affordable and private houses for people in the Highlands.

It works with housing associations, landowners and private developers to try and make sure as many housing sites as possible are used for new homes.

One of its main interests is promoting housing for people who are priced out of many new build and second hand properties, but who have little chance of a traditional public sector rented house because of demand.

Shelter Scotland said the committee had produced a substantial report which identified the shortage of affordable housing as the root cause of tensions in rural Scotland.

Director Graeme Brown said: "Their findings add yet more weight to the argument that housing is the number one issue for rural Scotland.

"Any attempt to water down the 2012 legal commitment to end homelessness in Scotland would make second class citizens of homeless people in rural Scotland."

He added: "The committee's call for a review of homelessness legislation in rural areas would offer an opportunity to ensure that Scotland remains on track for 2012."

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