Safe as houses. That expression, first coined in Victorian times, doesn’t really ring true today as the housing sector is currently going through troubled times.

We are going to be subjected, if that’s not too strong a word, to prolonged campaigning in 2024 as a General Election looms at some, as yet, undetermined date. That hasn’t stopped the first electioneering shots being fired already and any public fatigue with it could well mask some hugely important issues – not least housing, which is likely to be front and centre of political messaging.

Forward thinking – Lar Housing Trust’s conversion of a derelict Edinburgh church (St Kentigern’s Church)

That should, of course, be a good thing but will there be new ideas, innovative thinking and genuine expertise at the centre of the debate? Or will housing simply turn out to be a convenient political football riddled with empty promises?

Housing should be a key focus for all parties and its importance is nothing new. Indeed around 500 BC the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, said: “the strength of a nation is derived from the integrity of its homes.” I wonder what he would have made of various local authorities in Scotland declaring housing emergencies in the 21st century – three so far including our biggest cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. It’s not just an urban problem, however, as Argyll and Bute is the third.

The private rented sector is also in the spotlight with focus on Scottish Government imposed rent caps in the last couple of years and the availability, or lack of it, of social housing a constant discussion point. Mid-market rental homes often fly under the radar, but they are becoming an increasingly important part of the overall picture for those that neither qualify for social housing, nor can afford private rents.

All constituent parts of the housing sector are under scrutiny and it is incumbent on those decision makers within it to find solutions. At a time when government and local authority funds are tighter than ever, innovation is required. There are already examples of loan funding models, rather than grant, that are proving beneficial to the public purse. Should this model not be pursued more often?

Radical thinking and new ideas must be brought forward during 2024 and importantly these should be listened to by political players. Retaining expertise within the sector and making best use of corporate knowledge is essential and attracting deep thinkers a must, in both executive and crucially non-executive roles.

An abandoned paint factory in Ruchill into MMR homes
Part of the solution could be the development of empty, derelict buildings into quality homes for rent or purchase, despite the intrinsic risks involved. Turnkey, new build homes are not the only option to increase supply. The added benefit of repurposing derelict buildings comes in the carbon capture involved in such projects and there are several examples currently underway across Scotland.

Whatever else transpires over the coming months, sensible debate, informed thinking and a willingness to take risks are essential.