MORE affordable new homes were approved in Scotland last year, according to new figures, bringing some good news to low-income families and first-time buyers.

Quarterly housing statistics show 8840 affordable homes were approved in 2016, a 20 per cent rise on the previous year. The figure includes houses for the social rental and home ownership markets. There was also a rise in the number of approvals for new social rented properties – up by 17 per cent to 5,101.

The figures were published as Housing Minister Kevin Stewart confirmed £70 million of funding for 2017/18 for the Scottish Government’s Open Market Shared Equity (OMSE) scheme to help first-time buyers and priority groups buy a property. The funding will enable a further 1700 people to buy a home.

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Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland annual conference in Glasgow, Stewart said: “Ensuring access to good quality and affordable housing is a key priority for the Scottish Government, therefore it is encouraging that 20 per cent more properties were approved and started last year. As part of our efforts to increase affordable housing supply, we are determined to give targeted help to those seeking to move into home ownership.

“Over the past decade our OMSE scheme has helped more than 8700 people on low to moderate incomes to buy a home. I am delighted that the 2017/18 scheme will welcome new applications from April. Alongside our commitment to deliver 50,000 more affordable homes over the next five years – with 35,000 available for social rent – this will all contribute to increasing the availability of affordable homes across Scotland.”

However, the figures showed a continuing slowdown in private sector housebuilding, and the Federation of Master Builders Scotland called for action to address it.

Director Gordon Nelson said the most worrying figures showed that in the nine months to the end of September 2016, there were 14 per cent fewer private sector starts than in the same period in 2015.

“The first nine months of 2016 showed an increase in starts across housing associations and local authorities,” he said. “Scotland was the only part of the UK to see a fall in the number of new homes completed in 2015/16 compared to 2014/15. To reverse that and begin to fully meet Scotland’s housing need, we need to see all sectors building many more homes than they currently are.”

Nelson added: “The Government needs to look at how it can address this weakness in the market. Crucial to this will be how it can enable small and medium-sized (SME) house builders to play a greater role in the housing market and boost their output.

“The Government took an important step towards doing this in its survey of Scottish SME house builders last year. The responses showed that there are significant barriers facing these firms, the most important of which is access to finance.

“Research by the FMB also shows that small house builders face difficulties getting planning permission for small sites and this results in limited opportunities for small scale development. Both industry and Government now need to work together to find ways of addressing these challenges in order to ensure that the private sector is working to its full capacity, alongside the public sector, to help deliver the homes Scotland needs.”