Report says that community housing is one way to keeping young people on the islands

Community Land Scotland calls for access to safe and warm housing at prices local people can afford a new report published last week stated.

By John A. MacInnes
Tuesday, 17th November 2020, 8:14 am
House building site.
House building site.

“For too long people have been leaving villages and small towns across rural Scotland, because they could not find a house they could afford to live in, or were repeatedly evicted,” says Ailsa Raeburn, chair of Community Land Scotland which published the report on community led housing.

“In the fight against such depopulation, communities the length and breadth of rural Scotland, particularly the islands, have been coming together to build and manage their own affordable housing,” she continues.

These homes are low cost, highly energy efficient which means low heating bills, and are directly aimed at helping people stay in their local area, in addition to attracting back local people to return home, particularly those with young families.

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“Home Delivery – Community Led Housing in Rural Scotland” charts the success of the very many rural communities who have bought land and raised the funds to build the required affordable housing over the last five years of the Scottish Government’s Rural and Islands Housing Fund.

And with that unqualified success, Community Land Scotland is calling for that fund to continue beyond March 2021 when it is due to end in its current iteration.

“This type of development is always about more than just numbers – whether the size of the community or the number of houses built,” continues Ailsa.

“We have seen time and again that a very small number of houses can make a huge difference to our most economically fragile rural communities. Community housing is an integral part of empowering communities and that is fundamentally about ensuring that land and other assets are owned and used in the public interest and for the common good.”

Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning Kevin Stewart said: “It has been inspiring to read more stories of rural communities coming together to build affordable, energy-efficient homes that offer tenants and owners long-term housing security.”

“Many have had the support of the £30 million Rural and Islands Housing Funds. This is part of our record investment of more than £3.5 billion over this parliamentary term that funds our Affordable Housing Supply Programme, which has now managed to deliver around 4,800 energy efficient affordable homes in these rural and island communities over the past four years.

“The development of two houses at Ulva Ferry on Mull for example brought two young families to that community, four working age residents and six children to the local school. The school then manage to stay open and equally importantly the community was given the confidence to go on and build four more affordable houses which are now under construction and being advertised to let - what a success story.”

Ailsa Raeburn continued: “Access to safe and warm housing at a price point that local people can afford is a real issue in lots of parts of Scotland. In rural areas, especially popular holiday destinations, increasing numbers of houses are being turned into holiday homes and short-term lets.

“This new report by David Ross highlights the devastating personal impact this can have, with local youngsters sometimes being forced to live in caravans for years and young families being evicted multiple times.

“Community landowners are seeing this on their doorstep and are absolutely committed to finding a suitable solution.”

Andrew Thin, chair of the Scottish Land Commission told CLS in the report: “With large housebuilders largely inactive in rural Scotland we need to support other providers and promote new delivery models.

“Support organisations have a vital role to play here. Scotland has the skills needed to do this and they need to be brought together from across the sector to effectively deliver the housing.”

Kevin Stewart added: “Each of these new homes can have a significant impact. For example, the Rural and Islands Housing Funds supported a 12-house development in the village of Drumnadrochit that has allowed older residents to live independently, with support from a nearby day centre – an inspiring project created by the community themselves.

“The Scottish Land Commission recently described the Rural and Islands Housing Funds as ‘game changers’, and David Ross’s research further shows just how much the funds have helped to facilitate housing development in rural Scotland.”

Dr Calum Macleod, policy director at Community Land Scotland said: “It’s clear from the case studies in the report that the initial affordable housing proposals often act as a catalyst for wider community regeneration.”

He continues: “This includes enabling housing development by social landlords, development of market housing and creation of self-build plots as well as indirectly supporting delivery of other essential services.

“These include schools, healthcare, local shops and business facilities, thereby safeguarding existing jobs and creating new ones.

“Community led housing projects make a vital contribution to the sustainable local development and repopulation of our rural communities and areas.

“It’s therefore essential that the Rural Islands and Housing Fund is retained after next Scottish Parliament election in in May 2021.”