Minister, building system just plan crazy

Andy Pearson, left, accepts the Homes for Scotland commendation on behalf of Tweed Homes from Jackie Bird. Also in the photograph is Mark Hordern, chair of the independent judging panel.
Andy Pearson, left, accepts the Homes for Scotland commendation on behalf of Tweed Homes from Jackie Bird. Also in the photograph is Mark Hordern, chair of the independent judging panel.

THE boss of a Borders building firm has called on the Scottish Government to reduce the “barriers and burdens” which he claims are hampering his industry.

Andy Pearson, managing director of Peebles-based Tweed Homes, made his plea directly to housing minister Keith Brown in front of an audience of 700 at the Homes for Scotland annual awards ceremony in Edinburgh on Friday.

Mr Pearson had earlier been appointed chairman of that trade body which represents Scotland’s private housebuilders and whose member companies provide 95 per cent of all new houses built for sale each year.

In his inaugural address, Mr Pearson, who founded Tweed Homes in 1996, praised the Scottish Government for engaging with Homes for Scotland to provide a raft of support measures, including the acceleration of the affordable housing investment programme.

But while he endorsed the government’s intention to deliver 6,000 new affordable homes each year during the current parliamentary term, Mr Pearson threw down the gauntlet to the minister.

“We need to see some barriers removed and burdens reduced to allow us to deliver effectively,” said Mr Pearson. “Take, for instance, the carbon agenda and the Scottish Government’s aim to reduce this country’s carbon footprint by 42 per cent by 2020.

“A particular burden has been placed on the homebuilding industry to reduce emissions on new homes by 100 per cent by 2016. We acknowledge our role in addressing carbon emissions and delivering energy-efficient homes ... but we believe the 100 per cent target and its timing are disproportionate, and we would like to work closely with the Scottish Government to investigate an alternative solution.

“Let’s have a conversation about the targets and, during this process, we can explore ways of improving energy performance in the existing housing stock.”

Mr Pearson then described the planning system in Scotland, delivered by local authorities, as “a can of worms”, adding: “There is too much regulation, too many issues and too many opinions, and planning approvals are still taking far too long to process. The whole system is too complicated and drives me nuts.”

Noting that local government minister Derek Mackay had recently announced a consultation on proposals to reform the planning system, Mr Pearson said: “It would be wonderful if the outcome of this review drives reform and creates a dynamic planning system in Scotland.

“It is of vital importance our planning system is predictable, proportionate, delivers a generous and effective supply of housing land, and provides prompt planning approvals.”

Addressing Mr Brown, he concluded: “Your government’s ongoing support for our industry is absolutely essential and much appreciated by Homes for Scotland.

“We do, however, need policies that lessen the burdens and barriers which impede our progress. If you can help us, we can help you deliver warm homes and more jobs and apprenticeships.

“Together, we can rid Scotland of the blight of youth employment and fuel poverty, and give more people a home they can call their own.”

Mr Brown said later: “We are doing everything we can to support the housebuilding industry and increase housing supply at this difficult time.

“Just last week I announced an additional £2.5million for our New Supply Shared Equity With Developers scheme and we will continue to work with Homes for Scotland to launch the MI New Home mortgage indemnity scheme [aimed at helping people excluded from getting on the property ladder due to high deposits] for new-build housing in the near future.

“Action to improve the energy efficiency of Scotland’s new and existing housing will be key to meeting climate change targets. To support that, we will be consulting later this year on a draft Sustainable Housing Strategy, alongside proposals for new building standards for 2013.

“We will also launch a Greener Homes Innovation fund and we look forward to productive engagement with house builders and others on how best to provide affordable homes that are warmer and lower carbon emitting.”

Later at Friday’s awards ceremony, Mr Pearson accepted from BBC Scotland newsreader Jackie Bird a commendation for the “best partnership in affordable housing”. This acknowledges the collaboration between Tweed Homes and Scottish Borders Council in delivering 51 homes at Blanakiel, Galashiels, and Traquair Road in Innerleithen as part of the National Housing Trust delivery model.