Contractor frustrated over housing inaction

The project is in the advanced stages of construction.The project is in the advanced stages of construction.
The project is in the advanced stages of construction.
​An island construction firm has expressed frustration over a Scottish Government affordable housing programme failing to deliver any positive outcomes more than a year after a project being proposed.

​Neil Mackay and Company say they are anxious to make three family homes at Benside, near Stornoway, available to local first-time buyers with support from the scheme. The houses are due for completion by August and if there is no progress by then, the houses will be sold on the open market.

The response from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to Gazette inquiries revealed that the Benside project is not alone. There have been “discussions with a range of developers” none of which has produced any positive outcomes. This is understood to be due to the complexities of the scheme.

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Calum Maclean who is leading the Benside project for Neil Mackay and Company: “There was supposed to be a massive sum of money to be spent on housing in the islands and this scheme represents part of that package.

“We have offered this three house development which we think fits the scheme very well and there are other projects to which it could also apply.

“The Benside proposal was positively received by the council because it is fairly small scale and they thought it would be relatively easy to reach a positive outcome with approval early in the New Year.

“I confirmed last October that we had secured all necessary consents but basically that was the last we heard of it. We’re told that the Scottish Government keeps on changing the format of the scheme.

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Mr Maclean said: “It seems pretty bizarre. We keep hearing about a housing crisis yet here are three houses which, with a little support, could give three local families a good start in life but nobody seems to want them”.

He said the houses, which will be equipped with air source heating and solar panels, would sell “easily” on the open market and this is what the builders will be obliged to do if there is no early sign of progress under the scheme.A spokesman for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar told the Gazette: “The scheme is known as Partnership Support for Regeneration (PSfR) and there was a discussion with Neil MacKay around the Benside houses. PSfR is funded via the Affordable Housing Programme and has never been utilised in the Outer Hebrides. We were therefore keen to talk to developers and have had several discussions, with a range of developers, none of which has resulted in a PSfR project emerging. Discussions are on-going, however, and it may be that a project will emerge in due course”.

The scheme has been in existence since 2015 and “administrative instructions” were updated in 2022. The guidance states: “The scheme provides eligible developers with the minimum level of gap funding which bridges the gap, wholly or in part, between the cost of a development project and the sales value of the houses upon completion”.

Grants to local authorities under the scheme “can only be made with the specific consent of Scottish Ministers”. ​​​​​​​