End of population decline in West Harris Estate

WEST Harris Trust are bucking the trend as the community land-owners announce a halt in population decline, writes Eilidh Whiteford.

And the news comes as the Comhairle take the Scottish Government to Judicial Review regarding the closure of local primary school Shelibost.

Two years on from the Estate buy-out, a total of 16 houses are either being built, at the planning stages or converted from holiday homes to permanent residence. And current commitments look to bring 30 people to the Westside of Harris by 2013.

“There has been a marked change in West Harris since the community purchased the estate in 2010,” commented Trust chair Murdo Mackay. “While we can not take credit for all these positive developments I believe that the process of community ownership has created a new air of optimism.”

The Trust is also working with partners to deliver six houses for rent, with further developments in the pipeline, and also firmly believes that alongside housing, economic development is essential to continue the Estate’s growth.

Since the buyout, ten expressions of interest have been received for business proposals – which could result in a projected total of 24 new employment opportunities being created.

Police officers Jennifer and Donald Maclennan are one such couple committed to relocating to Donald’s homeland of Shelibost and expanding the opportunities available: “We have firm plans to diversify into tourism on our croft-land whereby we will almost certainly be in a position to offer an employment opportunity, at least in the summer months, to local person(s),” said Donald.

And the success of the West Harris Trust has been complimented by Chair of Community Land Scotland, David Cameron, who commented: “The beginning of the turnaround in the fortunes of West Harris, after decades of decline, is down to the community taking control of their own future through the purchase of their land.

“When local people take control, their priorities are all about the community.”