Architect Malcolm Fraser makes case for ‘repair and renew’ strategy for housing

Malcolm Fraser
Malcolm Fraser

Scotland could tackle its housing crisis with a serious effort to repair and renew existing urban infrastructure, especially in town centres, according to one of Scotland’s top architects.

Outlining his vision for housing in a new report, award-winning architect Malcolm Fraser discourages the idea that the housing crisis can be tackled through high-volume, low-quality new builds in the suburbs.

Fraser details a plan to reinvigorate run-down town centres through enhanced efforts to repair and renew Scotland’s 34,000 empty homes; lobby Westminster for the reduction of VAT on repairs; allow local authorities to compulsorily purchase vacant sites cheaply; and introduce a land value tax or derelict land tax to encourage development and reduce land speculation.

In the report called ‘Housekeeping Scotland: A Discussion Paper outlining a New Agenda for Housing’, published today by the Common Weal think-tank, Fraser argues that a major cause of the current housing crisis was the ideological pursuit of mortgage-backed and privately owned homes.

He said: “The United Kingdom’s housing policies have been ideologically-driven, and have led to the current crisis of strangled investment, under-provision and a general flow of power and money from civic society to the wealthy.”

Fraser, who also chaired and authored the Scottish Government’s 2013 Town Centre Review, added: “UK housing has suffered greatly from its politicians’ fixation with a single form of home and tenure, the mortgage-backed and privately-owned home. But it is clear that, even if it was desirable to only have this orthodox model (which it is not), not everyone is going to get a mortgage; and it is also clear that the ideological pursuit of this helped poison, and nearly bring down, the world economy, as well as being a key contributor to our current housing crisis.

“While Scotland has shown some appetite for broadening our housing horizons it needs to set out a clear agenda for achieving a diverse and sustainable market, that suits all incomes and interests while providing the shelter that is a fundamental right for all.”

A range of measures are advocated in order to achieve this, including:

  • Enhanced efforts to repair and renew Scotland’s 34,000 empty homes;
  • Lobby Westminster for reduction of VAT on repairs;

  • Allow local authorities to compulsory purchase order vacant sites cheaply
  • Introduce a land value tax or derelict land tax to encourage development and reduce land speculation;
  • A new financing model for the building of public rental housing;
  • Increased value put on high-quality construction apprenticeships;

  • The building of homes based on using the best of Scotland’s natural resources and homes that are desirable to live in and built to last
  • A “Central Housing Unit” to co-ordinate and provide leadership to disparate government housing initiatives.
  • Fraser, commenting on the paper, stated: “We all know we need to provide more homes, but to do this we need to think more creatively about where they might come from. Our proposal suggests more care for our existing stock, including more of Scotland’s 34,000 long-term empty homes repaired, more new homes in the hearts of our existing communities supporting their schools and services, and a reinvigorated and re-financed public rental sector (good new council housing, please!) alongside imaginative new private models. Our model also looks at using tax more creatively, how we should concentrate on the simple qualities that build good communities and how to entice young people into the building trades.”

    Robin McAlpine, Common Weal director, said of the report: “Malcolm Fraser is a visionary architect and a respected thinker on how we should build and indeed how we should live together.

    “Housing very often comes up as one of people’s top priorities when they’re asked about what government should be doing, but too often the agenda is set by so-called volume housebuilders who simply want permission for more and more low quality new build.

    “What is so valuable about this report is that it asks what a proper, integrated vision for housing and urban development in Scotland would look like if the policy was designed for people who live in houses rather than people who make profits out of building them.

    “Any report which concludes that designing the places our children play so they are bathed with sunlight is more important than a quick buck is a report that people should read.”

    Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, welcomed the report, stating. “The last 10 years has seen Scotland position itself very differently from Westminster in that it has social justice at the heart of all policy.

    “This report by Malcolm Fraser highlights how creating Place and Communities using strategic housing investment in town centres delivers on social justice, economic growth, community and importantly on sustainability and the environment.

    “Scotland is a nation of towns with two medium sized cities so it is what we do in towns that will ultimately determine our social and economic success. Our towns are facing complex challenges and I believe that this new thinking, alongside Scottish Government policy such as Town Centre First, can be a driver to deliver a relatively simple but effective solution.

    “Take Kilmarnock, last year it was awarded Scotland’s Most Improved Town - five former town centre retail sites were developed for almost 200 new council homes and the Council HQ moved almost 900 staff into a former Whisky Bond in the town centre. The resulting footfall lifted the fortunes of the town and these new communities were given fresh hope.”

    Fraser will launch the report today at IdeaSpace during the SNP conference fringe festival in Glasgow.

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