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Shelter is a basic human right, so we must help young people to build homes

The future for many young people and families in rural Scotland is blighted by the difficulties they face in getting hold of a place to live.

A recent study by the Scottish Agricultural College found that average house prices in many parts of rural Scotland were well in excess of five times average earnings. In many parishes the multiple was as high as ten.

In an attempt to solve this problem, the Scottish Government, its agencies, academics and voluntary bodies have all debated, discussed and come up with schemes to try and alleviate this problem but it persists.

Recently, I met a young couple in rural Perthshire who were faced with the problem of finding a roof over their heads. They lived in a small, rather poorly maintained cottage on a large rural estate under a short assured tenancy which only lasts for a year at a time.

They would like a place of their own but, despite there being thousands of acres of land around the village, obtaining half of an acre is beyond their means with building plots selling for over £80,000.

As it happens, they could afford to take out a loan for £80,000 but that would be the limit of their borrowing and they could not then afford to build a house. So, what to do? Well, sometimes, it is best to go back to basics. A typical acre of agricultural land is worth anything between £100 and £6000 at agricultural prices.

With planning permission, the value multiplies manyfold and the landowner makes a tidy capital gain. Land which today might be worth £800 per acre, may be worth £50,000 tomorrow and it is land prices which are making it so difficult for my young friends to build a house.

Across Scotland today there are a number of innovative architects designing low-cost, high quality rural housing. Hebridean Homes, for example, can supply a one, two or even three-bedroomed house erected to wind and watertight stage for under £50,000. This is affordable and the houses are highly desirable - even perhaps the epitome of contemporary cool.

So, the basics are as follows. A young couple can afford to borrow £80,000 and could build and fit out a high quality home for around £60,000 - if only they could afford the land. The land is not in short supply but the owners obviously enjoy monopoly control over its release and will tend not to sell if for £1000 if they could obtain £80,000 instead.

I maintain that shelter is a basic human right and that we should so organise our affairs so that those who need houses should be able to obtain sites for under £5000. This may mean looking again at compulsory purchase powers, reinstating land taxes on agricultural land or revisiting the land settlement acts of the early 20th century. Either way it is manifestly unjust that the basic needs of the many be held to ransom by the vested interests of the few.

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