Meet The Board – Norma Robson

We have a fantastic and dedicated Board of Directors – learn more about them in this new blog series!

Prior to her retirement last year, Norma was a Team Leader in Planning and Policy for Housing and Communities in Perth and Kinross Council. Over the past thirty years, she has worked mainly in strategic planning in housing. Her main areas of work focussed on the Local Housing Strategy, the Strategic Housing Investment Plan and the implementation of the Affordable Housing Policy throughout Perth & Kinross. In this blog, she shares an insight into how councils develop a Local Housing Strategy and the challenges of this in a rural setting.

Community led development is ‘the key’ to successful housing strategies 

Before my retirement last year, I worked in Housing Services for Perth and Kinross Council for over 36 years. After graduating from St. Andrews University with a degree in Geography, I started work as a Housing Assistant/Graduate Trainee attending Glasgow University, on a part-time basis, to secure a post-graduate diploma in Housing. During my time studying in St Andrews, I developed an interest in the more ‘human’ side of Geography, which led me to seek out a career in something that could make a difference in people’s lives. What could be more central to everyone than housing?

Over my 30 years of working in housing strategy, the approach to quantifying housing needs and planning how housing need in an area would be addressed became increasingly sophisticated – but has this translated into more effective Local Housing Strategies?

The starting point for developing a Local Housing Strategy (LHS) is the guidance issued to Local Authorities by the Scottish Government. This very comprehensive guidance reflects the central role housing plays across a wide range of issues from health to the environment. It is therefore crucial to focus on the issues most pertinent to the local area to ‘customise’ the Local Housing Strategy and make sure that local housing priorities are addressed. As part of this process, the housing need in the area is assessed – the number of houses needed, the tenure and type of housing, as well as where housing should be developed.

Government guidance on assessing housing need, based upon household projections, provides  consistency of approach, but falls short on delivering all of the information needed. There is a need to supplement this with additional research to identify the need for different types of housing, as well as more detailed information on the housing needs in individual communities. 

Developing a housing strategy in rural areas is particularly challenging. Information to inform the assessment of housing need is not usually available at the level of individual communities and often, lack of housing can mean that those requiring housing are not living in the area.

In many instances, in rural areas, employers have difficulty attracting new employees and essential education, health and social care services struggle due to lack of staff. This issue is brought more sharply into focus in lower paid work when it isn’t viable (or even possible) for an employee to travel a distance to work. This reinforces the requirement for fine detail in our assessment of housing need – in particular, affordable housing provision should be ‘finely tuned’ with the needs of rural communities.

A community-led approach involving key people such as local GPs, teachers and employers, as well as residents, is undoubtedly the best way to gain a detailed understanding of a community’s housing need, as well as to identify opportunities for more housing. Being involved in the process helps acceptance of new developments and of the households who will move into them.   

Organisations such as Rural Housing Scotland and Communities Housing Trust do invaluable work with communities to make sure that the housing needs of rural areas are identified and addressed as part of Local Housing Strategies. Community-led development that brings people together, is central to taking forward the placemaking agenda, developing effective Local Housing Strategies and creating communities and places that work for everyone.