Scottish Parliament debate highlights need for more housing co-ops

Scotland has just 11 registered housing co-ops, compared to 685 across the UK

Members of the Scottish Parliament have debated a report calling for more housing co-ops across the country.

Published by Co-operatives UK in March 2019, the report identifies significant benefits delivered by co-ops in terms of affordability, empowerment, community and social housing.

It says Scotland has just 11 registered housing co-ops, compared to 685 across the rest of the UK. Around 150,000 people are currently on council house waiting lists in Scotland.

The report gives the example of some successful Scottish housing co-ops such as West Whitlawburn Housing Co-op in Glasgow, and Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op.

Labour MSP Johan Lamont, who tabled the motion to debate the report, called on the government open up the remit of Co-operative Development Scotland to include housing and give it responsibility for willing the means to increase the number of housing co-ops.

“I trust that the government will recognise the key role of housing co-operatives, consider the report and act with all those who have an interest to ensure that housing co-operatives continue to serve our local communities,” she said.

Conservative MSP Graham Simpson supported the call for more housing co-ops in Scotland but added that councils also needed to be willing to give up control and transfer council housing stock to community level.

“What is holding us back here in Scotland? ” he asked. “The culture is part of the problem. However, England has a community housing fund, which is a national programme that supports the development of a range of community-led housing and will run until 2021-22.”, he said adding that the Wales Co-operative Centre was working to promote, support and increase the number of housing co-ops in Wales.

“Things are progressing better in the rest of the UK, so the Scottish government and the cabinet secretary might want to say something about that situation. Perhaps the Scottish government should be looking elsewhere, taking on board what is happening in the rest of these isles and doing it here in Scotland,” he added.

The Co-operative and Community led Housing programme in Wales is worth £1,080,000 over three years: April 2019 – March 2022.  It is a support programme delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre, which aims to facilitate and enable a thriving community led housing movement in Wales. Creating affordable homes that meet local need. It is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and the Welsh Government.

Labour MSP James Kelly described how, in his constituency, West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative had helped to transform the area.

He said: “The reality is that the housing stock was in a very poor condition and there was a lot of antisocial behaviour. West Whitlawburn was a very challenging area at that time. If members go to West Whitlawburn now, they will see that the area has been transformed. The original housing stock is still there, but it has been modernised to such an extent that there is great demand for places from people on the housing waiting list. However, it was not just a question of renovating the existing stock.

“There have been new builds, a community centre has been taken on and there is a communications co-op as well as an initiative to secure low energy prices. In addition to all that, rents run at a very competitive level compared with those of other housing providers in the area. That is a fantastic example of how a local area can be transformed by a housing co-op.”

Responding to contributions from MSPs, cabinet secretary for communities and local government Aileen Campbell said the housing co-op model had remained relatively small in Scotland because, unlike other parts of the UK, there was a strong tradition of community-controlled housing associations.

“Given the significant tenant involvement in housing associations in Scotland, there has not been the demand by tenants to grow the co-operative housing model here, but I am happy to further engage with Johann Lamont to understand the barriers that she feels may be there unintentionally and that stymie that demand,” she said, adding that Scotland had a statutory basis for tenant participation, unlike the rest of the UK.

This article has been edited – an earlier version included a quote by MSP Graham Simpson, which referred to the Co-operative and Community led Housing programme in Wales. The figures he quoted were inaccurate.