Forestry minister Allan Wilson and communities minister Margaret Curran have approved a proposal that the commission and Communities Scotland should look at the potential for releasing national forest land to increase the supply of affordable housing.
In many rural areas the lack of available land and a high demand for retirement or second homes has pushed prices beyond the means of many local people.
Under the plan, the commission and Communities Scotland will study the distribution and nature of the land managed by the commission to establish whether they can match suitable sites to areas of high demand where registered social landlords have encountered difficulties in obtaining land.
Announcing the plan, Mr Wilson said:
'As a major employer in rural areas Forestry Commission Scotland is well aware of the impact that good, affordable, social housing can make in rural locations. If we can identify Commission landholdings that overlap on areas where Communities Scotland has identified a high degree of need, we could make land available to registered social landlords to ease local difficulties. This might be forested as well as non-forested land.
'In rural and remote areas there are often only limited opportunities to stimulate businesses and jobs, and this plan could lead to the provision of a useful market and opportunities for some of Scotland's growing harvest of sustainably grown timber. This could be true not just in the construction of the homes, but also in the fuel for heating them - woodfuel from forest industries, such as wood chips from the tops of trees and sawmill co-products, could prove to be an economical, environmentally friendly and carbon-neutral way of doing this.'
Ms Cu rran added:
'Communities Scotland exceeded its target for providing homes in rural areas by seven per cent last year, and I recently announced an extra £10m for rural housing in the next two years. However, there is still a recognisable difficulty in the availability of land at economic prices for affordable social housing in many rural areas.
'The executive is committed to providing safe, secure and warm housing to communities throughout Scotland. Working with local people, provision of housing in rural areas can stimulate and sustain opportunities for local employment and local economies. This agreement is the first step in identifying what is available in Forestry Commission Scotland landholdings that might fit the bill.'
Forestry Commission Scotland is talking to architects and registered social landlords about the economic use of local timber in house construction. For example, it is working with Perthshire Housing Association to develop a new design of affordable housing that maximisesthe use of sustainable timber and minimises the energy requirement for heating.
Forestry Commission Scotland manages nearly 667,000 hectares of publicly owned land in Scotland. A total of 56,300 hectares of this is non-forest land such as agricultural and grazing land, land with existing buildings, and conservation land unsuitable for forestry, such as moorland and wetland.
The executive is currently reviewing the role, size, nature and geographic distribution of the land managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. Forestry minister Allan Wilson launched the review in August, and the public consultation part of the review on 3 December. It is expected to be completed by May 2004. Communities Scotland has eight district offices that work closely with registered local landlords and communities throughout Scotland.