In The Adventure of the Empty House, Sherlock Holmes uses an empty house to solve an apparently unsolvable locked-room murder. It was the first story after Holmes had seemingly plunged to his death at the hands of Moriarty and marked the beginning of a new series of adventures. The new First Minister, Humza Yousaf, has also turned to empty houses in an attempt to solve Scotland’s housing crisis in what he considers to be a fresh start for the Scottish Government under new leadership.

In his statement outlining the Scottish Government’s Policy Prospectus for the next 3 years, the First Minister recognised how crucial housing is to aspirations for Scotland to be a fairer country.

Commitments have been given to deliver affordable homes across the country, the majority of which will be for social rent, and to use £25 million from the affordable homes budget to purchase or long-lease empty homes in remote and rural areas to provide affordable homes for key workers (such as NHS staff, police and care workers).

Consultation has also commenced on measures which will give local authorities additional powers to increase Council tax rates on second and empty homes to try to encourage second home owners to use their accommodation differently, for the benefit of local communities, such as making them available for private rent.

Other housing commitments include reducing the number of people in temporary accommodation and introducing legislation on a new deal for tenants and new prevention of homelessness duties.

The focus on empty homes has been criticised by some given that second homes and holiday lets are a key part of the tourism and hospitality sectors on which many local rural economies depend.

With only 42,865 long term empty homes in Scotland and a target of delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, it is clear that just like Holmes himself, the empty homes strategy is going to need a sidekick if the Scottish Government intends to solve the chronic under supply of housing across the country. Building more new homes should be elementary, yet the latest Scottish Government housing statistics revealed a 12% drop in the number of new homes starting to be built across all sectors in the year to end September 2022. Why is that?

After the Empty House, Sherlock Holmes’ next case was The Adventure of the Norwood Builder. To borrow from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, examining those interesting problems which the complex life of the House Builder so plentifully presents is critical to resolving the housing crisis.

Let’s all get on the case.