Reaching the Scottish Government’s affordable housing target has become an “impossible dream” for Scotland’s registered social landlords (RSLs).

New figures show that an average of 7,700 new homes would need to be built every year to meet the target set out by Nicola Sturgeon in 2021. 

However, the sector has only managed an average of 4,700 new units a year across the last decade.

And that was before Deputy First Minister Shona Robison announced a £200m cut to the government’s affordable housebuilding programme for 2024-25 last month. 

The damning figures came as Housing Minister Paul McLennan confirmed to The Herald on Sunday the government was set to drop the commitment made in the first Programme for Government following the last Holyrood election and the signing of the Bute House Agreement.

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The SNP-Green administration promised 110,000 affordable homes would be delivered across the country by 2032, with at least 70% of these in the social rented sector.

The target is now set to be reviewed this year "with a focus on the delivery timeline."

A report by the Scottish Housing Regulator, looking at the five-year financial plans for Scotland’s Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) made clear the scheme was in trouble before the budget squeeze.

It notes that the sector has only “achieved annual completions of more than 5,000 units five times in the last ten years, averaging only around 4,700 new units across that period.”

While the pandemic “clearly had a significant impact on completions in 2020/21,” it says that from 2017/18 onwards in particular “we can also see a consistent pattern of over-forecasting, with actual completions consistently more than 20% down on forecast.”

The report continues: “To achieve the 2032 target of at least 77,000 affordable new homes across a ten-year period, albeit with some of that number to be delivered by the local authorities, an annual average of 7,700 new homes would need to be delivered, a figure that the sector has not come close to achieving in the last ten years.”

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Carolyn Lochhead, the Director of External Affairs at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) told The Herald on Sunday: “Even before the Scottish Government’s severe cut to the Affordable Housing Supply Programme, it was evident that reaching the affordable homes target was becoming an impossible dream.

“The Scottish Government’s own statistics show that the number of new social homes approved for the 12 months to September 2023 had declined by 26% from the previous year. The figures for social homes starting construction are even worse- falling by 41% in the same period.

“For the Scottish Government to have had any hope of meeting its target, further investment in the Affordable Housing Supply Programme was absolutely crucial.

“The fact that it is inflicting an almost £200 million cut, alongside seemingly no alternative plan, is devastating to the 250,000 people on a waiting list for a social home.”

Sean Clerkin from the Scottish Tenant’s Organisation said there needed to be an "emergency response now by both the Scottish and British governments to the housing and homelessness tsunami."

He added: "There need to be billions of pounds injected now into building tens of thousands of new homes and retrofitting some of the 46,000 empty homes in Scotland so that all our homeless can have decent homes to live in and that watertight rent controls are also introduced to protect low-income social renting tenants."

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Housing Minister Paul McLennan blamed the cut on "sustained high inflation and a UK Government autumn statement that failed to deliver the investment needed in Scotland's public services."

He added: “We will invest £556 million in affordable housing next year and continue to work with partners to increase the delivery of more affordable homes, the majority of which will be for social rent, including supporting acquisitions of existing properties."

The Herald: Paul McLennan, SNP candidate for East Lothian

The minister added: "We will also work with the financial community to attract private sector investment and help deliver more homes.

“The UK Government did not inflation-proof its capital budget which has resulted in a 9.8% real terms cut in our capital funding between 2023-24 and 2027-28.

"This alongside construction supply chain issues and labour shortages driven by Brexit, and high inflation last year means we cannot deliver on all our capital projects within the funding available.

"We will bring forward to 2024 a review of our target to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 with a focus on the delivery timeline.”