Housing Association representatives welcome Scottish Labour's new public land purchase policy

Scottish Labour will join the Greens in backing a legal right allowing councils and co-ops to buy land at existing use price

  • Scottish Labour joins Scottish Greens in formally supporting land value capture, after previously supporting an amendment backing the same during consideration of the Planning Bill
  • A new law on land value capture would allow councils and housing co-ops to buy land at its original price, as prices generally inflate once areas of land have been pegged for development
  • Scottish Labour shift welcomed by the SFHA: “The price of land is a barrier to building the affordable housing which is desperately needed.”
  • Common Weal head of policy Dr Craig Dalzell warns that such a reform would be ineffectual without a funding plan from the Scottish National Investment Bank or a National Housing Company

SCOTTISH LABOUR leader Richard Leonard today [23 September] announced Scottish Labour’s support for a new law giving councils and housing co-ops in Scotland the right to buy land from developers at existing use value, rather than market rates.

Speaking at Labour’s UK conference in Brighton, Leonard this morning confirmed that Scottish Labour’s forthcoming Housing Commission report will recommend that existing laws be reformed “to allow public interest-led bodies and local authorities to acquire land at, or very close to, existing use value.”

Leonard said: “There is a housing emergency in Scotland, and the price of land lies at the centre of it. So when we launch our Housing Commission report in the next few weeks it will make radical recommendations which tackle the excess profits of property developers, including a proposal to introduce a new law giving local councils, housing associations and housing co-operatives right to acquire land at an existing use-value.”

READ MORE: Public Land Value Capture: A new model for housing development in Scotland

This shift from Scottish Labour follows the party’s earlier support for the Scottish Greens on this issue during consideration of the Scottish Government’s Planning Bill.

In October 2018, the Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee agreed to amendments spearheaded by Green housing spokesperson Andy Wightman MSP, which would have prevented the price of land in ‘masterplan consent areas’ being inflated by the prospect of development and limited what local authorities pay to landowners in order to purchase it.

Commenting at the time, Wightman said: “With average house prices seven and a half times the average salary we must take every opportunity we can to help people afford to buy or rent a home. Giving local councils the power to buy land at existing use value rather than the inflated value caused by planning permission is an important tool in the box.”

However, this amendment was eventually defeated by the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives, despite the Tories backing it at the committee stage and housing minister Kevin Stewart stating that the Scottish Government remained "interested in the concept of land value capture".

Responding to Scottish Labour’s endorsement of land value capture, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) chief executive Sally Thomas told CommonSpace: “We are delighted with the Scottish Labour Housing Commission announcement that it will take serious steps to address the housing crisis in Scotland.

“There is a housing emergency in Scotland, and the price of land lies at the centre of it.” Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard

“In particular, the right to acquire land at existing use value is something we have lobbied for for a number of years on behalf of our members. We know the price of land is a barrier to building the affordable housing which is desperately needed.

“We need a system which would allow distribution of revenues on the basis of need rather than market circumstance, and which reinforces the ambition for and achievement of socially inclusive place-making.  Of the many factors that contribute to this, land is one of the most critical.

“The right to acquire land at existing use value is about about introducing fairness and equality into a system and set of relationships currently characterised by distortion, unfairness and inequality.

“It is about rebalancing and redistributing for greater social good, from which we will all benefit. 

“More detailed plans for housing after 2021 are necessary for our members who are keen to keep building homes and we look forward to discussing this with the Scottish Government as a matter of urgency.”

However, Dr Craig Dalzell, head of research and policy at the Common Weal think tank, warned that Scottish Labour’s shift in policy would be ineffective without a coordinated funding plan.

“We need a system which would allow distribution of revenues on the basis of need rather than market circumstance, and which reinforces the ambition for and achievement of socially inclusive place-making.” SFHA chief executive Sally Thomas

Dalzell told CommonSpace: “Many of the policies in this speech are valuable and worthwhile and indeed many of them could have been lifted straight from Common Weal's policy library but there is still a lack of larger vision and a sense that they are merely trying to get one step above the ever-decreasing bar set by the SNP.

“Buying housing land at existing use value is something that we strongly advocate but without a funding plan from the National Investment Bank or a National Housing Company to co-ordinate the building of zero-carbon eco-homes it will do little to change the broken housing system.

“Workplace democracy is something that Britain sorely lacks despite it being simply normal elsewhere but wrapping it up in constitutional reform issues risks muddying the waters to impenetrability. And talk of Federalism is still a total distraction unimplementable without England's yet-to-manifest blessing.

“But for all this, it is still an improvement on anything we've seen from Scottish Labour to date and if it looks to be a step ahead of what the other parties are offering then perhaps that fact says more about them and what they are failing to offer in return.”

Picture courtesy of David Thomson

COMMONSPACE FORUM 26 SEPTEMBER: Indyref at 5