You killed the market, Stewart tells housing minister

Paul McLennan, left, and Chris Stewart exchange views (pic: Terry Murden)

Property developer Chris Stewart accused Scottish housing minister Paul McLennan of “killing the market” during a robust exchange on government policy.

The loss of up to £3 billion of investment, mainly in the build to rent sector, has been blamed directly on the government’s rent controls and planning system.

The minister told a gathering of property specialists how the controversial Housing Bill aimed to provide quality and affordable homes for everyone. He insisted that he wanted to create the right conditions for investment.

But Mr Stewart, joining him on a four-strong panel at the Scottish Property Federation annual conference, turned to him and said: “You have a market. There is £3bn of investment sitting there. You killed the market.”

His comment prompted loud applause from the 250 delegates meeting at the Technology & Innovation Centre at Strathclyde University.

Mr Stewart, whose eponymous company has been behind a number of city centre regeneration projects, accepted that the minister had “a tough job”, but said there was a “massive disconnect between what the government is saying and what has happened.”

He added: “The market was there, the tenant demand was there, along with responsible developers and institutional investors providing a product, and it has just stopped.”

James Blakey, planning director at Moda Living, said his company had £450m of additional investment ready to be signed off but it will not happen because of the bill. He said investment that would have come to Scotland is heading to places like Copenhagen, Berlin and south of the border.

“Demand for build to rent is enormous. The draft housing bill stifles all that investment, I’m sorry,” he said.

Ed Crockett, head of residential investment at Europa Capital, said political risk was part of the calculation for investors and just now risk in Scotland was too high.

“If you want to create an investment environment you have to reduce risk. We would rather invest in Poland which is a lower risk than Scotland,” he said.

Mr McLennan said the government would listen to all views during consultation on the bill, but he insisted that it was important to strike the right balance between the needs of property owners and tenants.

Interview: SPF chair Maria Francke

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