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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 February 2007, 22:40 GMT
Affordable housing
Daniel Maxwell
The Politics Show Scotland

Edinburgh tenement flats
Edinburgh tenement flats

With interest rates rising, house prices rocketing and repossessions on the up, the issue of affordable homes is forcing its way onto our election agenda.

More and more people can no longer afford to buy their own homes and are either being forced into part owning them with housing associations, or renting.

The pressure therefore clearly falls on local authorities to provide this need.

So much so that seven of them have so far been granted permission from the Scottish Executive to introduce five year bans on the "Tenants Right to Buy" scheme.

Indeed it was only on 02 February that the Executive gave Perth and Kinross permission.

They join a growing list that includes East Renfrewshire, Highland, South Ayrshire, Moray, Dumfries and Galloway and Fife.

Other councils have taken a different approach.

In East Lothian, they have been buying back their previously sold council homes.

So it was off to East Lothian first for Christine MacLeod as she gauged the extent of the problem.

"I bought my home from the council for 10,250 in 1986, and sold it back to them for 144,000, last year," says Dorothy Brand, an East Lothian resident.

Not untypical

Dornie in Highland region
Dornie in Highland region

This council's answer to providing affordable homes in its area, has been to buy back houses it previously sold, at a far greater price than it originally received for them.

Over the past three years, East Lothian has spent a cool 13m of tax payers money, buying back 112 properties.

Yet it is still nowhere close to tackling the problem.

"We've been buying back council houses because we can't meet the demand for rented accommodation in East Lothian," says Councillor Willie Innes, East Lothian Council. "We've got 6,000 people on our waiting list and now we're having to meet the requirement of the homeless order which means we can't house homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation, and that's creating a real problem," he insists.

Yet the problem is not confined to East Lothian.

Since it was introduced by Mrs Thatcher 25 years ago, the "Right to Buy" policy has seen the sale of around 470,000 homes in Scotland, leading to shortages in affordable housing.

Fight back..

But are councils fighting back?

Fife is the first council to have recently secured a second "Right to Buy" ban, this time to be applied to villages in the west of its Kingdom, such as Rosyth.

The Council's aim is to free up 40 houses for rent, in this area, where there are 1,584 waiting for the opportunity.

Sheep in front of house at Hightae, Dumfriesshire
Hightae, Dumfriesshire

And that does not begin to account for its overall waiting list, totalling 9,700 people. So while they say the ban is a step in the right direction, it just does not go far enough.

"There have been alterations to the "Right to Buy" by the Scottish Executive but in my opinion they haven't gone far enough. I would like to see the abolition of the 'Right to Buy,'" says Cllr. Alex Sawers, Fife Council.

Experts reckon that it is only in the past two years that the Executive have tried to tackle the problem, by providing grants to housing associations to build new homes for let, and part-ownership.

Councils agree

But they have missed a big trick in their attempts to close the affordable housing gap.

Prof Glen Bramley, Heriot Watt University says: "I think the [planning] guidelines that are given to local authorities about how they can use the town planning system to negotiate with developers for affordable housing in new schemes.

Rosyth
Rosyth is centred around the dockyards

"I think those guidelines could be stronger. They could enable authorities in pressured areas to seek a greater proportion of affordable housing,"

Fife council agree. The planning law, as it stands, ties their hands.

Crucially, it does not allow them to force developers to build affordable homes.

And that means that many new houses are out of reach for so many trying to get onto the property ladder.

So what do you think?

Should all Scottish councils stop selling any more council houses? Do you sympathise with councils like East Lothian that have to buy council houses back for several times more than they sold them for?

And what about the planning law? What will fix the great affordable housing problem?

You can e-mail your comments on the e-mail form below...

Join Glenn Campbell on the Politics Show on Sunday 04 February 2006, on BBC One at 12:00 GMT

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