Urgently needed affordable houses in a north-east Skye community – the first in almost 20 years – have just received the green light.
Highland Council has approved a planning application for six new three-bedroom houses on a common grazing tenanted by the Stenscholl crofting township in Staffin. It comes after the community had suffered a significant population decline and shrinking primary school roll in recent years.
Staffin Community Trust is working in partnership with the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust and Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association to deliver the new affordable homes, which would be the first built in Staffin since 1999. The development, on land near Staffin Primary School, includes business units and a storage facility. Talks have been held with NHS Highland about the potential relocation of the Staffin Surgery to the site.
Portree-based architect firm Rural Design produced the development design and the planning application was lodged in April last year.
The Scottish Government’s Rural Housing Fund and the Scottish Land Fund funded the design and feasibility work. There is still plenty of work ahead of SCT and its partners before construction work starts.
SCT chairman Sandy Ogilvie (pictured) said: “The granting of this planning permission is a significant step in what is a game changing project for the Staffin community. Affordable housing is at the heart of any rural community and this development will kick start future plans to reverse the population decline and build a community with growth, aspiration and stability.”
HSCHT chief executive Ronnie MacRae said: “HSCHT is delighted that SCT has persevered and acquired planning permission for this exciting mixed-use project. The process has been a lengthy one but will now deliver much needed affordable housing through a range of tenures along with other economic and social elements to strengthen the community. SCT is delivering an exemplar project which is demonstrating strong partnership working that will benefit the wider community whilst also leading the way in enacting the benefits of Scottish Government’s new community empowerment initiatives.”
Lachie MacDonald, the LSHA chief executive added: “We are pleased that real progress is now being made to bring this much needed housing project to reality and we will actively work with all the parties to achieve our mutual objectives”.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes, who wrote a letter in support of the planning application, said: “This is tremendously good news. Everybody knows that housing is one of the greatest pressures on Skye. Staffin Community Trust recognised that population decline was, in part at least, due to the lack of affordable housing. I think the work that they have done to take the community with them and apply for planning permission has been done exceedingly well.
“Despite occasional setbacks, I think there has been a lot of hopefulness that this project will be successful. I have supported it from the start and look forward to seeing the first family move into one of these affordable homes.”
Highlands and Islands regional MSP David Stewart said: “This is great news and well done to the trust for having the tenacity to see this through. When I first visited the preferred site it was obvious that there needed to be a balance between the aspirations of a remote, rural community and the need to protect the environment. The original constraint on development was affecting the viability of the community for those living and working there. I wish the trust all the best for the future and plan to keep in touch with the development’s progress.”
An economic report carried out for SCT highlighted that Staffin’s population recorded a 6.6 per cent drop, between 2009 and 2013, from 608 residents down to 568 people.
Meanwhile, the population of Portree, 17 miles south of Staffin, has had a significant number of affordable homes built in recent years, and grown by 11 per cent in the last decade.
SCT has already received several expressions of interest in the new homes. Two of the properties would be owned by SCT, two by HSCHT and two by LSHA.