“Trial for the Isles” to attract new residents

Unsurprisingly, the availability of housing was identified as a key issue.Unsurprisingly, the availability of housing was identified as a key issue.
Unsurprisingly, the availability of housing was identified as a key issue.
​A raft of “innovative” measures aimed at increasing the population of the Uists – including a ‘Trial The Islands’ project to enable potential recruits to have a test period living on the islands – has been presented to councillors.

Meeting in South Uist, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Sustainable Development Committee heard how the Uist Repopulation Zone Working Group had supported the delivery of an Action Plan which aims to “implement change in existing and identified challenges which are impacting the decisions of people to stay in or move to Uist”.

A report to the meeting confirmed that classifying Uist as a “Repopulation Zone” recognised the “acute depopulation challenges” and “allows actions that need to be addressed to attract and retain economically active people”.

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To ensure “local needs were tackled”, the report added, “a Uist Repopulation Zone Working Group comprising of public, private and the communities sector” had been working to support both short and long-term actions.

It stated that issues including housing, childcare, infrastructure, connectivity, jobs and skills all feature in the Plan following community consultations, with a raft of “innovative actions and activities” which are “known to impact” on people’s decisions on living in the islands.

These include supporting people to learn new skills, Gaelic culture promotion, supporting young people to build houses, supporting community hot-desking, promoting the appropriate messaging, and producing films to showcase the area.

The meeting was told that project staff had provided advice to 19 inquiries, and supported 26 relocations. The report added that housing “has been consistently identified as the key issue which impacts on all aspects of the plan through the types and sizes of housing available, their location in respect to jobs, and the cost of purchasing or building”.

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The report confirmed that work is underway “to take forward innovative solutions to bring four houses within Balivanich back into domestic use”.

The action plan also includes the “Trial the Isles” initiative, which would “‘allow an economically-active family to move and live in an allocated house for a set period to see if they would like to move long-term, with the caveat that they must have a job offer or are running their own business”.

The Action Plan also highlighted concerns over the use of the term “remote” in relation to the islands.

The report referenced the Scottish Government’s Addressing Depopulation Action Plan which “recognised the language used to describe areas of depopulation has changed and therefore, with the exception of its use in statistical economic indices and specific circumstances, they will no longer use the word ‘remote’ when discussing island and rural communities as it portrays areas as lacking in people, culture and enterprise”.

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Cllr Duncan MacInnes, Depute Leader of the Comhairle, called for more discussions with the Scottish and UK governments, in particular in relation to the “uniqueness of the islands’ situation.”

Committee Chair, Cllr Donald Crichton, said he thought the action plan was “absolutely very appropriate.”