Minister to launch homes after £4m SBC investment

Keith Brown MSP
Keith Brown MSP

SCOTTISH housing minister Keith Brown will be in the region next week to launch an affordable housing scheme made possible by £4.05million borrowed by Scottish Borders Council, writes Andrew Keddie.

The cash represents 65 per cent of the cost of building 51 flats and houses in Galashiels and Innerleithen under the Scottish Government’s new National Housing Trust (NHT) initiative.

As recently revealed in these columns, the Borders is the first local authority in Scotland to have signed such a deal, which will see the houses built by Peebles-based Tweed Homes and completed within 18 months. And site work on the first of the two developments – 26 two, three and four-bedroomed houses at Balnakiel on the western outskirts of Galashiels – will be officially launched by Mr Brown on Tuesday morning.

Construction on 25 one and two-bedroomed flats at Traquair Road, Innerleithen, is due to take place later this year. Both developments have planning consent.

The day before SBC was given consent to borrow its share, a new company – Tweedside 2011 NHT LLP (limited liability partnership) – was registered on the Companies Register with a registered office in Aberdeen, its corporate members having been appointed by the council, Tweed Homes and approved by the Scottish Government’s capital borrowing agency Scottish Futures Trust (SFT).

The so-called special purpose vehicle company, which will oversee the schemes, will buy the houses once they are built by paying 65 per cent of an agreed purchase price – the cash borrowed by the council – to the developer up front. The balance of 35 per cent is coming from Tweed Homes.

“Because it is a pilot programme of a new initiative, it has been quite complicated to set up and we have required a lot of professional advice,” said Tweed Homes managing director Andy Pearson, who is vice-chairman of Homes for Scotland, representing the private housebuilding industry.

“But with the framework contract awarded, the loan secured by the council and our bank coming up trumps, it’s now all systems go to provide homes in two towns where many people cannot afford to buy.” The homes will be let on short assured tenancies and available for rent for a period of between five and 10 years, after which they will be sold, being offered in the first instance to sitting tenants, but then on the open market. Proceeds from sales will see the council fully recompensed for its investment.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Mr Brown will be joined by Councillor Ron Smith, executive member for social work (housing), and SBC social work director Andrew Lowe.

“It is a new and exciting way of providing much-needed affordable housing when market conditions are flat,” said Mr Pearson. “I am aware of other private builders in the Borders who were deterred by the bureaucracy involved and I hope it can be simplified going forward.

“However, the council should be commended for its foresight and commitment both to Borderers struggling to get on the property ladder and to stimulating the local economy.

“It will keep my company busy until the end of 2012, with each home built creating or safeguarding four jobs.”