Government reports suburban homes as affordable rural housing

This is Burdiehouse on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Under the Scottish Government’s Affordable Housing Supply Programme statistics, the 15 affordable homes built here in 2018/19 are classed as ‘accessible rural’, alongside houses built in towns such as Elgin, Inverurie and Troon. (See the full list of ‘accessible rural’ locations identified in the 2018/19 report).

There are variations in the definition of ‘rural’, but the Scottish Government defines it as settlements with fewer than 3,000 people. These settlements are home to almost 1 million, or 17% of Scotland’s population, and encompass everything from large villages in the Central Belt to a handful of houses on Unst. There is enough variety in there already, and adding city suburbs and towns to the list of ‘rural’ developments creates a false picture of investment in rural housing.

In reality, when you remove the 283 homes built in areas like this from the government-reported statistics on affordable housing supply, only 907 out of 7,502 affordable homes built in 2018/19 were in rural areas – a fair and proportionate share would be 1,275. Or, to put it another way, just 12% of the funding was allocated to areas which are home to 17% of the country’s population.

So – why does this matter?

Looking beyond population and investment figures we know that rural communities face multiple additional challenges to developing affordable housing provision in their areas. The lack of access to suitable land in locations appropriate for development is an issue, alongside generally higher build costs and an unwillingness of housing associations and developers to venture into many rural areas, meaning a higher reliance on volunteer effort to tackle housing need.

And we know that affordable housing is a crucial foundation for ensuring sustainable growth in our rural communities to support Scotland’s rural economy and population. Rural Scotland needs a proportionate share of investment in affordable housing to meet housing need, stem rural depopulation and actively enable repopulation.

The recent ‘Affordable Housing Need in Scotland Post-2021‘ report from SFHA, CIH and Shelter Scotland calls for the delivery of 53,000 affordable homes over the next Parliament (2021–2026) and a commitment to a capital investment programme of £3.4 billion over five years in order to tackle basic housing need and child poverty, and kick-start our post-pandemic economic recovery.

At Rural Housing Scotland we welcome the push for more affordable housing across the country and are encouraged by discussions about how affordable housing development can be used as a driver for post-COVID recovery. But we need to make sure that rural Scotland secures a fair share of affordable housing investment, and that starts with ensuring that the reporting accurately reflects the reality of provision in rural areas.