Kevin Stewart: Green infrastructure and sustainable development 



The need to include social justice and green infrastructure in our housing developments has only been increased by the onset of the current health pandemic, says housing minister Kevin Stewart.

Kevin Stewart MSP

The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has made many of us reflect on the importance and value of the homes we live in and the places where we live, work, shop and socialise. As we come out of this pandemic, instead of just getting back to the way things were before, we have a fresh opportunity to change our communities for the better.

The need to shift to a new way of doing things was already pressing before coronavirus hit, and it has not diminished the challenges we face – from climate change, homelessness, child poverty and other health and socio-economic inequalities.

Collectively, we need to look beyond the bricks and mortar and include social justice and delivering places that are well-connected and meet people’s needs – places that are adaptable and responsive to climate change.

Green infrastructure can offer housing associations positive ways to provide environmental assets that not only help create good, healthy places for tenants and owners to live now, but that also help protect homes, assets and investment in the longer term.

An exemplar of this is Donside Village in my own constituency in Aberdeen, on the site of a former paper mill. With the support of Scottish Government funding, Sanctuary Housing has been redeveloping the site into a sustainable mixed community.

New modern energy efficient flats and houses have been built, with a mix of social housing, shared equity and owner occupied properties. The homes overlook the river and the development has been designed and landscaped, with input from the community, as an amenity for the local community and wildlife.

The Donside Community Association (DCA), was established by the community in February 2013 to act in the best interest of its residents. The DCA takes on roles and responsibilities to develop Donside and the community through site improvements and the organisation of events and activities designed to bring the community together.

It also aims to act as a voice for Donside at a local level through involvement and engagement with local networks, Community Councils and other partner agencies.

These are the types of innovative projects, with green infrastructure linked to affordable housing, offering wider benefits to communities that I want to see more of.

We are also supporting the Social Housing and Green Infrastructure project in partnership with SFHA, Scottish Natural Heritage and Architecture and Design Scotland.

This project is providing financial support and advice to social housing providers to “design in” green infrastructure and to create more, and better quality opportunities for people to connect with nature close to where they live.

Three social housing projects, Maryhill and Queensland Court in Glasgow, and Meadowbank in Edinburgh, are maximising the benefits of green infrastructure by introducing green roofs, a retrofitted sustainable urban drainage scheme and outdoor play facilities.

These forward-thinking projects will provide valuable lessons for the wider housing sector around designing and procuring green infrastructure.

Through our Affordable Housing Supply Programme we are delivering more housing for Scotland, which will help support and create jobs, tackle inequality, and create strong, sustainable communities.

We have transformed access to affordable housing with record investment of more than £3.5 billion over this parliamentary term to deliver our target of 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 for social rent.

And just this week, I announced £6 million additional funding for our national fuel poverty scheme, Warmer Homes Scotland, and £10m for Area Based Schemes delivered by local authorities.

This investment will help to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in Scotland, enabling them to live in warm, comfortable homes and pay less on their fuel bills while living in a greener, more sustainable way.

Planning also has a key role to play in addressing climate change and radically reducing our emissions. Looking forward, we are now working on the next National Planning Framework. I expect NPF4 to focus strongly on health, well-being and tackling climate change.

As part of the early engagement stage, we opened our call for ideas. At the start of this year my team travelled around the country with our ScotPlan 2050 roadshow, meeting a range of people and stakeholders.

With people from across Scotland, we delved into questions like: what developments will we need to address climate change? How can places be made more resilient to the impacts of climate change? And what might climate change-friendly places look like in the future?

And we’ve also been consulting with stakeholders on a vision for how our homes and communities should look and feel by 2040 and the options and choices to get there.

The ideas and challenges we gathered will help us to develop our Housing to 2040 vision and route map, which will set out a 20-year plan to deliver our vision for good quality, energy efficient, zero carbon housing with access to outdoor space, transport links, digital connectivity and community services.

Now is the time to reimagine our housing system, and to do that we have to continue to build on the collective wisdom and expertise from across the wide and varied housing sector and from communities across Scotland.