An increasing issue for councils is plugging the gap in their infrastructure to enable housing development to proceed. Post economic downturn, the housing market is recovering and new housing developments are coming forward in significantly larger numbers. With the pent up demand of an under supply of family housing all of the main political parties want to see housing delivery increased.
And with good reason, because at around 15,000 homes a year being built in Scotland we are building about half of what we need. The slow progress is a drag on the economy and is creating near double digit house inflation in some parts of the country and we should all know where that leads.
However, new homes mean new children in schools and new pressures on roads. This all requires funding, but against a background of real austerity in local government there just isn't the room to find the cash for the new schools and roads. In the past developers would have simply passed the costs on to the value of the homes being built and n an environment of 12% house price inflation that was an option. At present it's just not.
So far in councils most of the time and energy has been spent in identifying new sites for housing development and the debate and the thinking about the infrastructure to enable that development just hasn't been done.
So expect more scenes like those in Edinburgh where the council is looking to refuse applications on sites allocated for housing on infrastructure groups, and like Aberdeenshire where major housing developments are being held up by discussions with Transport Scotland about existing traffic pressures. Councillors aren't doing this for fun (though in the hot house of pre-election politics it is always easier to say no), they are doing it because there is a real issue.
So, either housing only goes in areas where the infrastructure exists - generally where there is less demand for housing, or there needs to be a fix. A flat rate 'roof tax' is likely to be the option favoured by major developers, but could be opposed by owners of individual sites that are ready to go because there is for example room at the local school. It is also thorny because land deals on developments in process won't have had any such charges built in.
The coming months will see development becoming increasingly political with a big and small 'p'. Scottish politics as we have seen from the leaders debates is being more fiercely fought than at any time since the 1980s. Planning issues inevitably get caught up in the political process and this will only increase in a period where we face three consecutive years of elections. So if you're working on a development, make sure you get your arguments very carefully aligned. And what about the infrastructure gap? It will get fixed, but that may take some time and pain to achieve. In Edinburgh and in many other places throughout Scotland there's going to be a lot of number crunching to try and fix an issue that threatens to be a major drag on new development. As ever, delivery won't be easy.