Council housing has come in for some social stick down the years—mostly coming from petty snobbery. Being a ‘schemie’ myself I liked how our dads could turn their hand to building a sledge or knowing where to catch mackerel. Dads of private school kids were helpless guys in suits who paid our dads to fix things—and we pitied their pasty-faced offspring who never got home before it was dark.
While such social distinctions have faded, the growth of commuter housing across East Lothian and rampant right-to-buy (RTB) saw a huge growth in private detached homes but little that was affordable to rent. Although I’m supportive of RTB, it must be balanced by new build. But ELC stopped building 30 years ago so barely 8,000 of their original 20,000 were still on their books. The pips began squeaking for young people not in ‘priority need’ seeking to rent locally.
ELC should have kept building, despite RTB. A house built for £35k in East Lothian and rented for ten years would then be valued much more; ELC would have received a sum comparable to their outlay—even with discount—they could then invest in another new house. Unfortunately, no such bold step was taken. The Homes For Life arms’-length registered social landlord alternative singularly failed to fill the gap—building 300 homes in five years when asked to deliver 500 homes in three years.
Fortunately for people waiting decades to rent a council house, six years ago ELC did grasp the thistle with an ambitious programme for 1,000 council homes across the county. From the first handful at Macbeth Moir Road in Musselburgh’s ‘Wimpeys’ snug and well designed homes in Dunbar’s Lochend and the 100-home site of Muirpark Wynd in Tranent, the long waiting list went down while standards went up.
As evidenced by the last of the 42 new homes in Law View, North Berwick that was handed over this week, modern council houses are not only more spacious, better built and better insulated than private estates but their layout and style are not only more child- and community-friendly. So much so they are being entered for architectural awards. In contrast the ‘desirable’ 5-bedroom Cala homes across town are seen as expensive ‘cookie cutter’ exemplars of what’s wrong with house design in Scotland.
First published in the East Lothian Courier, March 2014