​Fresh plea made for South Harris housing

The community hall was packed to capacity for the meeting, demonstrating the strength of local opinion.The community hall was packed to capacity for the meeting, demonstrating the strength of local opinion.
The community hall was packed to capacity for the meeting, demonstrating the strength of local opinion.
​A packed public meeting in Leverburgh Village Hall last week gave vent to longstanding community frustration over failure to provide social housing in the area, which is holding back economic development and hastening depopulation.

​The issue has come to a head over plans by Hebridean Housing Partnership for 12 new homes on a site near the ferry terminal in Leverburgh. While planning consent was secured for all 12, HHP say they can only fund the construction of six in the short term.

Other options were unanimously rejected by the meeting which was attended by representatives of HHP, Tighean Innse Gall, the Harris Forum and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

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Around 80 people attended and were presented with a ‘Leverburgh Options’ document, compiled by HHP and the Comhairle. It stated that, despite having obtained planning consent for 12, HHP could only build six houses in one year due to “financial constraints”.

Furthermore, HHP confirmed that they can only build according to the numbers in the Strategic Housing Investment Plan which is compiled by CNES annually. At the moment, the number for Leverburgh in 2022/2023 is six units.

Options outlined for alternative ways to achieve earlier progress with the other six houses included making plots available on the open market for self-build; shared equity; community or local businesses to establish a housing association and build units themselves.

However, it was repeatedly pointed out that the “Options” document omitted the one option which had unanimous support at the meeting – for HHP to build 12 houses, for affordable rent in Leverburgh in a single phase, at the earliest possible opportunity.

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A show of hands endorsed this option while no hands were raised in support of any of the other options.

The Comhairle confirmed that the next SHIP renewal needs to be submitted to the Scottish Government by October and that they will be reviewing its content. The proposals must be in accordance with Scottish Government guidelines for cost and other criteria.

HHP confirmed that the tender documents which have been issued in respect of the Leverburgh site are for the building of 12 houses, despite only being in a position to build six at present. It is anticipated that a contractor will be appointed by the end of August on the basis of a two-phase project.

Under questioning, both the Comhairle and HHP agreed that if the Leverburgh number in the SHIP document were to change from six to 12, that would constitute a mandate for HHP to build 12 houses in Leverburgh.

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As a result of this discussion, South Harris Community Council will be writing to CNES to request the number is increased to 12, based on the evidenced, urgent demand in South Harris.

No new public sector housing for rent has been built in Leverburgh since the 1960s and the position has been exacerbated by soaring prices for houses and crofts in what, to all intents and purposes, has become an unregulated market in tenancies.