A step forward on Harris housing, but...

Leverburgh will see its first social housing for 60 years.Leverburgh will see its first social housing for 60 years.
Leverburgh will see its first social housing for 60 years.
The long-running controversy over a housing project in Leverburgh seemed closer to resolution this week after a consensus emerged over going straight for a 12 house development on the site.

​As we went to press on Wednesday, the board of Hebridean Housing Partnership was expected to approve the 12 house project after Comhairle nan Eilean Siar had amended its own priority programme.

HHP said: “Following receipt of a letter from the Comhairle, our Board will consider a recommendation to progress with a 12 house development subject to tender prices being acceptable by Scottish Government.

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“Tenders are due to be returned by Friday 25 September and the assessment and evaluation will progress thereafter.”

Like other rural areas of the Western Isles, South Harris has faced a mounting shortage of affordable homes. Exceptionally high house prices in Harris and the weakness of crofting regulation have exacerbated the problem. The Leverburgh scheme, close to the ferry terminal, will be the first new “social housing” for almost 60 years.

Donnie Macdonald, chairman of South Harris Community Council, told the Gazette on Wednesday: “This is great news. I’m very glad that both the Comhairle and HHP have now agreed that 12 houses represents the best was forward”.

The Leverburgh case highlighted concerns over the way decisions are made about housing provision and the extent to which developments are constrained by national guidelines which may not accord with reality, particularly in rural parts of the islands.

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HHP responded last week to the suggestion it was responsible for the Leverburgh decision. In a letter to the Gazette, chief executive, Dena Macleod, wrote that “HHP were following the Comhairle’s SHIP (which) still shows six homes in Leverburgh”. This week, however, that figure increased to 12.

MEANWHILE, another housing controversy has arisen with a decision by HHP that a house it owns near Tarbert will be sold on the open market. HHP told the Gazette: “The property at the Caw was transferred to HHP by the Comhairle at Stock Transfer. A review of the long-term future of the property was carried out when it recently became vacant.

“It was determined that the nature and location of the building was not suitable as social rented housing. A decision was therefore taken to sell but with conditions that it be targeted at first time buyers and would not be available to purchasers seeking a second or holiday home. In accordance with the Stock Transfer Agreement, permission was obtained from the Comhairle prior to proceeding to sale.”

The one-bedroom house is being advertised for offers over £120,000.

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Kenny Macleod, chairman of the Harris Development Company, said: “We’re furious about it. There is a huge demand for housing here. The fact they are selling off a house that was previously for rent beggars belief. It’s a small house but there are plenty people looking for a place to stay and it certainly hasn’t been offered to anyone on the waiting list”.