Affordable homes are seen as one of the key items in attracting people to the area to live and work and to retain people born and bred here.
Currently there are around 583 housing requests for accommodation, with most of that demand centred in Stornoway, which draws 60 percent of the requests made.
Last year the Government made an investment commitment of £25m in the drive to deliver more affordable accommodation for the Islands.
The 25m is to be released over three years in separate tranches. In 2018-19 there is £7.533 million on the table for housing projects, this will rise to £8.522 million in 2019-20 and £9.092 million in 2020-21.
Since then a blueprint has been drawn up to determine where those homes will be built.
It is hoped the investment will create between 250 and 300 new homes over the next three years.
With up to 300 new properties on offer by 2021 - 115 will be under development or completed in 2018/19 alone - the housing waiting list should be significantly impacted in a positive way.
However, not all of the properties created will reduce the 583 requests for homes, as the blueprint for this new accommodation also specifies that some of these properties - around 44 - will be part of a Shared Equity Scheme.
This works by owners buying a share of a property (for example 60%) with the Scottish Government retaining the balance.
The homeowner can increase their ownership share as their circumstances improve and if the homeowner wants to sell the property, they would receive a percentage of the selling price based on the share they own.
This type of scheme makes it far easier for first time buyers to get a foot on the property ladder and has already proven successful in the Islands.
EXTRA CARE HOUSING
Another portion of the properties being created will be part of a new idea to transform elderly care in the Islands called ‘Extra Care Housing’.
In the plan for 2018/19 there is a 50 unit ‘Extra Care Housing’ complex planned for land at Goathill Farm/Sand Street, which will provide accommodation for the elderly to live independently, whilst still having access to nearby professional support.
Eventually this site will also house a new care home and other social housing, with a further 16-unit Extra Care Housing centre planned at another site in rural Lewis.
The ambitious Goathill development will need to be built over the three year period and is likely to cost £10m of the £25m in Government funding.
A few weeks ago the Gazette highlighted rising concerns that funding for these new build projects could come under threat due to the time it was taking to identify sites and get these projects rolling.
If the £25m in Governement funding is not utilised for Island projects by the 2021 deadline a portion could trickle back into central Government coffers to be spent on developing housing elsewhere in the country.
However, a spokesperson for the Hebridean Housing Partnership stated this week that “assuming no unexpected delays, or complications the grant should be utilised”.
TIMESCALE IS AMBITIOUS
Talking about the ability to deliver the 250 to 300 home target in three years, they added: “The funding was welcome, but the timescale to deliver was ambitious, as it represented more than double of what had previously been available.
“Gearing up to deliver a programme of twice the normal takes time and resources.”
They continued that securing land is probably the most time consuming part of the development process.
They explained: “Once a site is identified a feasibility study is commissioned which examines the suitability of the site, infrastructure requirement, capacity of the site, the cost of developing the site along with a number of other items.
“If the outcome of the study shows the site can be developed within approved budgets we will then proceed to try and purchase the site.
“Purchasing sites can be long and complicated; there are invariably title issues to resolve as well as obtaining permission from local crofting community and/or community landlords etc.
“Once a site is secured a tender is issued. Tenders are assessed and if the costs are within budget the tender will be awarded and that’s when work on the ground begins.
“The time scale from when a site is identified to actually getting a shovel in the ground can range from 9 to 18 months.
“There are also occasions where a developer who already owns the land approaches either HHP or the Comhairle with a Design and Build proposal.
“A recent example of this type of project is Tom Na Ba houses at Galson. The timescale to start a Design and Build project tends to be around 4 to 6 months.”