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East Lothian Greens
East Lothian Greens

HOUSING DEBT SLOWING DOWN ECONOMIC RECOVERY, SAYS WIGHTMAN

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Land reform expert and writer Andy Wightman visited Musselburgh last night for a meeting hosted by the East Lothian Greens.Andymeeting

In the wake of news that East Lothian tenant farmer Andrew Stoddart is facing eviction from the land he has farmed for more than 20 years, guests at the meeting were interested to find out more about land issues in Scotland.

Much of Andy’s talk revolved around housing and the high cost of land in the UK.

“It’s easier to invest in housing than it is in businesses, which is why banks invested so much in housing,” Andy told the group. “There is £1.3trillion in debt locked up in housing, which doesn’t generate any productive economic movement. The increase in land prices in this country has led to the increase in house prices; and yes, the high cost of land also means the quality of housing is bad.

“The design life of some houses is not as long as the mortgage that’s been taken out on them!”

Where Europe sees a massive percentage of homes being self-built (that is, commissioned by the buyer and built to their specifications), only 12% of houses in the UK are self-build. “Here we have volume housebuilding by developers,” said Andy.

Andy also touched on local democracy and the fact that in mainland Europe there are so many more councils each representing fewer people. Most of these councils raise half their revenue through local taxes, which is spent on the local community and infrastructure. “The councillors live in the community – they literally bump into the voters on the street,” said Andy. “That makes them much more accountable.”

On the subject of Land Value Tax, Andy pointed out that a transition period would be necessary before the Scottish Greens’ vision of LVT could be put into place. “We need a modern property tax system, and to stabilise the housing market first. Bring the cost of houses back down to three times people’s earnings; and move to Land Value Tax gradually. But it would be easy to do.”

Andy is Scottish Greens’ no2 candidate on the Lothians regional list for Holyrood 2016, author of Who Owns Scotland? and The Poor Had No Lawyers, and a member of the Commission on Local Tax Reform.