I HEARD a live radio interview about housing a few mornings ago. The storyline concerned eight new affordable homes that had been built by a community trust. The interviewer commended the efforts of the organisation, but asked how it would meet the tens of people looking for a home in that particular community. The short answer is, of course, it was just the start.

The increasing involvement of community groups in housing is testament to the empowerment of communities across Scotland, but also reveals the increasing desperation to access affordable, warm and secure housing. The SNP Government has put its money when its mouth is on housing, delivering an extremely ambitious house delivery programme.

The Scottish Government undoubtedly leads the way in the UK on building warm, safe, affordable homes. It has delivered more than 118,000 affordable homes across Scotland. It has invested £1 billion in housing efficiency – ensuring warmer, more efficient (and therefore cheaper) housing.

It also ended the Right to Buy, preventing 15,000 council homes from being sold over a 10-year period. All of that has made a massive difference – in fact, just imagine how much more challenging things would be had these schemes not proceeded.

The ambition doesn’t end there – the SNP have a commitment to deliver 110,000 homes by 2032, with the majority of them for social rent. That sits alongside considerable investment in rural housing, as announced by the First Minister in the most recent Programme for Government.

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That hasn’t lessened the calls for affordable homes. Hardly a day goes by without a constituent getting in touch with me, expressing frustration at best and fear at worst. Whether they are in Glasgow or in the Highlands, they cannot afford the reasonable and basic right of a warm, safe home.

The mark of success of any housing policy is the extent to which regulation, funding and legislation can allow local solutions to be found for local problems. A national approach is important in terms of budgeting for the multi-billion-pound housebuilding programme, but communities need to be able to deliver local initiatives.

That’s what the Common Weal paper on housing makes clear. It notes that national targets and initiatives are useful, but it’s even more important to deal with the nuances of the housing problem. There are other extremely useful suggestions in this paper, including a housebuilding stimulus – by empowering the Scottish National Investment Bank.

I do believe that we need to empower what is essentially local housing plans, all supported by the national budget. I have worked closely with community groups which have invested significantly in new homes.

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They’ve built two homes here, six houses there. In Fort Augustus, they built more than 20 new homes. In Staffin, they built six homes as well as a new medical hub. In Arisaig, they are building new homes right now, to be completed soon.

The success of all of these schemes is largely down to the resilience and determination of community groups. It is not because it has been a particularly easy process. They have taken a great deal of effort, time and finances.

Every community group has said to me, in differing ways, that had it not been for the extent of the need, they might have given up. But they persevered, and then had to allocate the homes to new tenants – when the list of people in need was as long as their arm.

There are a number of changes that I think should be made to support community groups delivering new homes. I think it’s worth considering whether there should be a presumption in favour of granting planning for affordable homes.

I think the bureaucratic burden on community groups should be reduced – so that they don’t have to jump through the same hoops as big, corporate businesses. I’ve seen before the burden placed on groups by planning consultees, including nature, environmental and transport organisations. I also think we should look to remove as many of the costs as possible in the process.

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Of course, we still need to ensure that the right houses are built in the right places, but surely the need for affordable homes is such that now is the time to support community groups providing a public good.

One of the most acute issues is the impact on wider society and our local economies. When an area cannot retain local people, it also loses workers.

That includes teachers, nurses and private sector employees. It hollows out the local economy, turning it into a ghost town. Housing truly is a foundation stone of a thriving, prosperous local society. In many parts of Scotland, there is no shortage of interest in houses for sale – the problem is that they get bought up as second homes, lying empty 51 weeks of the year.

The need to house local workers has led to radical new partnerships and reinterpretations of housing policy, to meet particular needs. In Aviemore, the local chamber of commerce has partnered with the local authority and a housing organisation to build houses specifically for local workers. This is a truly innovative partnership.

It’s not like the “tied houses” of old. Instead, these homes will be rented to tenants at mid-market rent levels – which is higher than social rent (i.e. rent for a council house) and lower than private rent.

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The Cairngorms Housing Partnership brings together local businesses who are keen to work together to ensure their workers can stay in the area. Member businesses pay a small fee and their employees then take priority when mid-market properties are built or become available.

This was a pilot scheme, to test the regulations, legislation and funding available and see what was possible. It was incredibly successful, leading to plans to build 30 more mid-market rent properties across the area. This scheme can be replicated in so many other parts of Scotland.

Housing is a universal need, that can only be delivered on a local basis. The way to do that is empower – and support – community groups. Many of them don’t see themselves as housebuilders, but they have become like that in order to meet a need. To go back to the radio interviewer earlier this week, eight new homes in a particular community won’t scratch the surface, but it is an excellent start.

With the right support, eight homes can become 80 – in the right place, of the right tenure, for the right families.

Then we’ll start to turn the tide and meet the demand for affordable housing.