Malcolm warns that the number of socialy rentable houses built in Edinburgh may fall
Taking Scotland Forward: Infrastructure and Capital Investment Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
In my last speech on capital expenditure before the election, I said that housing should be our number 1 priority for capital expenditure. I hope that the cabinet secretary will argue for that in the forthcoming spending review. Unfortunately, that will not be the case for this year’s budget.

I am particularly concerned about the declining number of social rented houses that will be built in this and subsequent years if the current trend continues. In Edinburgh, for example, according to the council we require 1,600 new social rented houses a year in order to meet the demand for such accommodation. In the last financial year, 600 such houses were built and the prediction this year is that only 300 will be built.

Apart from the general budget cuts, the main reason for that is the restriction on the housing association grant to £40,000 per property. The result is that the mix in any new development is changing. In the past, typically 70 per cent of housing might have been social rented and 30 per cent mid market. Now in Edinburgh, it will have to be 50 per cent mid market and 50 per cent social rented. In fact, I was told by the director of a housing association that if the trend continues, he will not be able to build any social rented houses in a few years’ time because he will have to borrow so much more because of the reduced HAG levels.

I fully acknowledge that mid-market housing is important for Edinburgh, but social rented housing is even more crucial for the thousands on waiting lists who cannot afford home ownership, shared equity or mid-market housing. In the discussions on the spending review, I hope that the cabinet secretary will make the case for housing in general, but for social rented housing in particular. It is a matter of great concern that the SNP commitment in its election manifesto to build 6,000 social rented houses has now become 6,000 affordable houses.

Marco Biagi (SNP, Edinburgh Central):
In the spirit of consensus, will the member welcome the City of Edinburgh Council project for 3,000 social rented council homes thanks to changes to the legislative environment made by an SNP Administration?

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I welcome any form of social rented housing in Edinburgh. I welcome the council houses that are already planned, but my last point on housing is to make a plea to the minister to support the bid from Edinburgh to the £20 million council house part of the innovation and investment fund. The main part of Edinburgh’s bid is for the demolition and rebuilding of Fort house in my constituency, which has had enormous problems attached to it for some time. We desperately need it to be rebuilt on the current site, so I hope that the minister will look sympathetically on the bid.

I have one remaining minute, and how can I talk about the tram in one minute? The whole debate on the tram is coming to a head this week, so I want to say four things - if I have time. First, I support the call for a public inquiry that my colleague Kezia Dugdale made last week. I think that, as far as possible, we should suspend the blame game. I know that that will not be totally possible, but I think that we should do that as far as possible and let the public inquiry determine who is to blame for what.

Secondly, there has been a debate in the Edinburgh Evening News every night this week on whether we should go on with the trams or cancel the project. What the public are not hearing is the cost of cancellation, which is enormous. Cancelling the project would cost £700 million overall, and we cannot borrow to cover a shortfall for cancellation. Therefore, cancellation in the short run will be a lot more expensive than going ahead with the project.

I am glad that the Government agrees with that point. One of my constituents received a letter today from Transport Scotland, which states:

“Given the significant level of public investment to date, it would be unacceptable to leave the tram project unfinished.”

That view was also expressed by John Swinney when I last questioned him about it before the election. I hope that the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment can take the same position today.

Finally, let us work together to find solutions, financial and otherwise, that benefit the environment and economy of Edinburgh and Scotland, and let us not do irreparable and expensive damage to Edinburgh and Scotland by cancelling the tram project.
June 29th 2011 (16.12-16.16)